There is a need for both counterinsurgency specialists and the conventional weaponry needed to deter nations, Gates said. The upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review will take this into account and look at new ways to size the force, he told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.
The U.S. military is not going to let the conventional side wither away, but neither is it going to ignore counterinsurgency to the extent that the force forgets the capability, the secretary said.
“Those who believe that is what we are trying to do and that that’s what I believe do not understand what we are trying to do or what I believe,” he said.
The vast preponderance of the Defense Department procurement budget still will be for large systems used and sophisticated weapons systems useable against near peers, the secretary said. These capabilities “will continue to give us a technological edge for the next 20 to 25 years,” he said.
But the U.S. military is fighting two wars today, and servicemembers have to have the equipment and training to win those. “What I am trying to do is simply get a place at the table, when resources are passed out, for those who are fighting today’s wars,” he said.
The budget recommendations the secretary made in April seeks “to institutionalize what we’ve learned, about counterinsurgency, so that we don’t forget it like we did after Vietnam,” he said.
Gates is not tilting the scale against conventional capabilities. “You know, $1 trillion for the Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth generation fighter that has some capabilities the F-22 does not, is not a trivial investment in the future,” he said. “I have hardly read about the fact that we’re initiating the replacements for the Ohio-class (missile submarine) with this budget.”
In fact, the nation needs all these capabilities, Gates said. The idea of counterinsurgency and conventional capabilities being discreet types of warfare is obsolete.
“My belief is that conflict in the future will slide up and down a scale, both in scope or scale and in lethality,” he said. “And we have to procure the kinds of things that give us – the kinds of equipment and weapons that give us — the maximum flexibility, across the widest range of that spectrum of conflict.”
Senior military leaders have said they agree with this construct and agree that the force should be sized with this concept in mind.
“If there is one major aspect of the QDR that I have insisted that we try and get away from, it is this construct that we’ve had, for such a long time, that we size our forces to be able to fight two major combat operations,” Gates said. “I think that is not a realistic view of the world.
“We are already in two major conflicts. So what if we have a third one or a fourth one or a fifth one? Along that spectrum, where do you characterize a Hezbollah that has more missiles and rockets than most countries or a violent extremist group that may acquire a weapon of mass destruction?”
This will mean a huge investment for the future, one that is endangered by the U.S. House of Representatives recent decision to continue the F-22 Raptor program, Gates said.
“Frankly, to be blunt about it, the notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States, I find complete nonsense,” he said. “With respect to the House mark, I would say it’s a big problem.”