WASHINGTON– The fiscal 2010 defense budget request is a “reform budget” that builds on lessons learned on the battlefield to shape the military to confront other potential threats around the world, now and in the future, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Congress today. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee the proposed budget focuses on three basic priorities:

— Reaffirming support to the all-volunteer force, which Gates called “America’s greatest strategic asset”;

— Rebalancing defense programs to fight and win the current and future engagements while providing a hedge against other contingencies; and

— Overhauling procurement, acquisition and contracting systems to reform how and what the department buys.

“This budget is less about numbers than it is about how the military thinks about the nature of war and prepares for the future, about how we take care of our people and institutionalize support for the warfighter in the long term,” Gates said.

It’s also, he said, “about the role of the services and how we can buy weapons as jointly as we fight, [and] about reforming our requirements and acquisition processes.”

Gates told the committee he took what he heard from troops on the ground to heart in hammering out the request. He called the straightforward reports he got from these troops “the greatest single source for ideas” on what the department needs to do operationally, as well as institutionally.

“As I told a group of soldiers in Afghanistan, they have done their job. Now it is time for us in Washington to do ours,” he said. “In many respects, this budget builds on all the meetings I have had with troops and commanders, and everything that I have learned over the past two and a half years, all underpinning this budget’s three principal objectives.”

Mullen noted that more than one-third of the budget is devoted to what he called “the people account” that addresses the needs of “our top strategic priority.”

“The best way to guarantee our future security is to support our troops and their families,” he said. He lauded provisions of the request that support health care, housing, advanced education and other measures that will enhance recruiting and retention.

Meanwhile, Gates said the budget aims to ensure the sustainability of defense programs – eliminating waste and “requirements creep” while terminating some programs and bringing costs down in others. It also helps to posture the military for the wars it’s most likely to fight in the future, he added, while funding modernization programs to sustain advances for those potential future conflicts.

“Decisions to curtail or eliminate a program were based solely on its relevance and on its execution,” Mullen said. “The same can be said for those we decided to keep. If we are what we buy, I believe the force we are asking you to help us buy today is the right one, both for the world we are living in and the world we may find ourselves living in 20 to 30 years down the road.”

Mullen said the request provides the proper balance between conventional and unconventional capabilities.

“The work of defending this nation does not fit nicely into any one bucket. It spans the entire spectrum of conflict,” he told the committee. “We must be ready to deter and win all wars, big and small, near and far. With this budget submission, the nation is getting the military it needs for that challenge. It’s getting a strategy for the future.”

In the meantime, the admiral said, the budget applies lessons learned on the battlefield, and institutionally at the Pentagon, to win the current conflicts.

“The responsibility of this department first and foremost is to fight and win the nation’s wars, not just prepare for them,” he said. “We have to do better.”

Gates urged the committee to look at the budget as a whole rather than zeroing in on individual line items that don’t reflect the big-picture objectives they support. He cautioned the panel against padding the budget in the wrong areas.

“A dollar spent for capabilities excess to our real needs is a dollar taken from capability we do need – often to sustain our men and women in combat and bring them home safely,” he said.

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