Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the details of President Barack Obama’s proposed $534 billion defense budget for fiscal 2010 during a House Armed Services Committee hearing today.
“First and foremost, this is a reform budget reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet also addressing the range of other potential threats around the world now and in the future,” Gates said.
On the heels of a trip to Afghanistan last week, Gates said one purpose of his visit was to get the “unvarnished and unscripted” perspective from troops and commanders downrange.
“As we increase our presence there – and refocus our efforts with a new strategy – I wanted to get a sense from the ground level of the challenges and needs so that we can give our troops the equipment and support to be successful and come home safely,” he said. Such input, Gates added, has provided the best source of ideas for directing the Defense Department.
“As I told a group of soldiers on [May 7], they have done their job,” he said. “Now it is time for us in Washington to do ours.”
Gates laid out his three principal objectives, citing the need to reaffirm the commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force, which he said represents America’s greatest strategic asset.
“As Admiral Mullen says, if we don’t get the ‘people’ part of this business right, none of the other decisions will matter,” Gates said.
The defense secretary’s second objective is to rebalance the Defense Department’s programs in order to enhance warfighting capabilities for the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to prepare for scenarios the U.S. is most likely to face in the years ahead, while hedging against other risks and contingencies.
Gates announced his recommendations last month, distributing funds in accordance with what he characterized as the type of “complex hybrid” warfare he expects will be increasingly common. He allotted roughly half of his proposed budget for traditional, strategic and conventional conflict, about 40 percent for dual-purpose capabilities and the remaining 10 percent for irregular warfare.
In addition to the breakdown he outlined, the defense secretary’s proposal seeks to move funding away from supplemental budgets and into the baseline budget. Gates said today his suggestions were derived from lessons he’s learned during his tenure as defense secretary.
“As you know, this year we have funded the costs of the wars through the regular budgeting process – as opposed to emergency supplementals,” he said. “By presenting this budget together, we hope to give a more accurate picture of the costs of the wars and also create a more unified budget process to decrease some of the churn usually associated with funding for the Defense Department.”
Finally, Gates reiterated the need to reform the defense acquisition process.
“We must reform how and what we buy,” he said, “meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition, and contracting.”
Mullen endorsed the collaborative and comprehensive process by which Gates and the department reached their conclusions about the proposed shape and contents of the budget.
“Decisions to curtail or eliminate a program were based solely on its relevance and on its execution. The same can be said for those we decided to keep,” he said. “None of the final decisions were easy to make, but all of them are vital to our future.
“It’s been said that we are what we buy, and I believe that,” he added. “And I also believe that 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.”