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Friday, January 2, 2009

Many Issues Still Unaddressed by Gates
By Amy Butler, John M. Doyle and Michael Bruno
The story of Robert Gates's impact in 2008 is incomplete without acknowledging that there are major issues he must still address.
These range from broad policy questions, such as crafting a cohesive policy toward Iran and deciding how to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center in Cuba, to refining procurement strategies that will shape the future force and dictate military spending for years to come.
His ability to tackle them is limited. Gates's success or failure in managing relationships with allied militaries, as well as interservice funding squabbles, depends largely on a yet-to-be-named politically appointed leadership team. Gates alone, even with backing from President-elect Barack Obama, cannot merely will these questions to closure.
"Is he up to - and will he be allowed to - deal with the post-Iraq transition?" one industry consultant asks. The political team will have to be educated in the parochial interests of the services but focused on Gates's goal of joint requirements and collaborative decision-making. What is needed soon to set the stage for Gates's term under Obama is a strategy to address Taliban gains in southern Afghanistan, terrorist interests in destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan, nuclear weapons developments in Iran and how the Pentagon will proceed with budgeting decisions in the wake of the Iraq war, including the repair or replacement of war-worn equipment.
Obama and Gates will face a crisis in U.S. national security planning, programming and budgeting, say Anthony Cordesman and Hans Ulrich Kaeser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Washington analysts say this crisis has been growing in the last eight years, demanding a broad restructuring of the U.S. national security effort, defense spending, military manpower, procurement and readiness.
"With the deepening economic crisis, President Obama will face a continuing meltdown in the Pentagon," agrees Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information. "This deep-seated deterioration in America's defenses consists of shrinking, aging combat forces that are less ready to fight - all at sharply increased cost. The Clinton administration made all these forces worse in the 1990s only to be significantly outdone at worsening them by Donald Rumsfeld, and even Robert Gates."
Nevertheless, even stalwart critics like Wheeler do not assign too much blame to Gates. "In truth, these forces are decades old, and they have been exacerbated by both Republicans and Democrats in both the Pentagon and Congress for many years."
Gates and Obama must also craft a policy accord on two key matters about which they seemingly disagree: missile defense and U.S. nuclear posture. Gates favors establishing sites in Poland and the Czech Republic for U.S. missile defense interceptors and a radar by about 2012. Those would be designed to counter threats from Iran, which could be capable around 2015 of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Obama, however, has reservations about the plans and has argued against what he calls unproven missile defense efforts.
Military officials are already exploring alternatives to placing ground-based two-stage interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic, says Gen. Victor Renuart, Jr., head of U.S. Northern Command.
Likewise, Gates is forward-leaning on the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), a new nuclear warhead he says is needed to improve the safety of today's aging systems. But Obama is concerned it could mar arms control efforts. Without the RRW, Gates and Obama must draw up a U.S. position on testing of existing weapons. Some experts say testing is needed to maintain the stockpile as it ages, though that raises many of the same issues internationally as does developing a new system.
Obama and Gates are "diametrically opposed on these issues, but at the end of the day I think that they will find a compromise that all sides can be comfortable with," says Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
Moreover, despite differing views of the Pentagon and Democrats in Congress, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House strategic forces subcommittee, praises Gates's approach on these matters. "He's always worked very fairly with me. I don't believe the decisions on missile defense were his," she says. "I believe they were ideological decisions made in the Bush administration - and happily, that's coming to an end."
Meanwhile, Gates will also be at the helm of the Pentagon during negotiations leading up to a renewal of the Start I nuclear arms reduction treaty. These discussions will take place during a tense period for U.S.-Russian relations. Moscow's attack last year on its former satellite, Georgia, was a frustration to Washington and Gates. He has also been upfront about his exasperation with Russia's antagonistic position on the European missile defense site. Still, Gates says common ground can be reached on the Start negotiations. "There is a real possibility of going down below the 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads now," Gates tells Aviation Week. "I'd begin to get pretty nervous if we begin to talk about below 1,500 just in view of the array of countries developing these systems and modernization programs in both Russia and China."
At home, Gates says he plans to focus on managing the Pentagon's spending habits. "We really need to take a holistic look at how we do acquisition and procurement, and how we can do better at getting stuff delivered on time, reasonably on budget and that balances taking advantage of the newest and best technologies but at the same time trying to maximize the number of platforms we have," he says, outlining a measured approach to the problem. "Even just making a start on that would be significant."
Four troubled, high-profile programs alone involve contracts of almost $70 billion worth of research and development and procurement funding combined: the Army's recently terminated Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter; the Air Force's on-again, off-again Transformational Satellite communications system; Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter; and the beleaguered KC-X refueling tanker replacement.
A decision will be demanded by March on keeping open the production line for the Air Force's F-22 Raptor, at a cost of $143 million each in the most recent production lot. Also in the area of tactical aircraft, the Navy and Air Force are likely to request funding for more platforms as squadrons retire old aircraft. This could mean money is needed for more nonstealthy fourth-generation systems, like the F-16 and F/A-18E/F, while the Pentagon continues developing the multinational F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
In these decisions, Gates will have to square off with lawmakers, their industry allies and determined generals and admirals - pillars of the so-called Iron Triangle.
In-depth management of procurement programs at the Defense Dept. is new territory for Gates. Much of his time since entering office has been spent on Iraq and Afghanistan and urgent procurements related to supporting those war efforts. He gave a glimpse of what could be ahead when he halted a second attempt last fall for a competition between U.S. and European designs for the U.S. Air Force's KC-135 refueling tanker replacement. He demanded a "cooling off" period, after the Air Force's first attempt was found to be flawed.
The path forward on the refueling tanker contract, worth up to $35 billion, has become a pacing item for other Air Force procurements because of the missteps made by the service in managing the competition last year.
"I thought he did the right thing in canceling the program because there just wasn't enough time to do the thing right," says Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), an ardent supporter of Boeing, one of the tanker competitors. "One of the biggest challenges this administration is going to have is reforming the acquisition process. It is really broken - particularly at the Air Force."
At some point moving forward, Gates will be tested to balance Buy American demands in Congress against his urgency for a valid competition to select the best hardware for the job.
Buying a refueling tanker is Gates's top procurement priority for the Air Force. "The worst possible outcome is to split this contract" between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS North America. "It will dramatically increase cost to the taxpayer," says Gates.
Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says the sooner Obama and Gates tackle hard decisions, the better. "This will be an era of tough choices. We've had a 40% buildup since the start of the Bush administration with supplementals on top of that," he says. "It's been tough because of war, but from a budgetary perspective, the services haven't had to make tough choices."

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