- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates‘ decapitation of the Air Force leadership came months after a heated debate pitting Mr. Gates and his staff against Air Force generals over spending priorities, knowledgeable sources have revealed.

Gen. T. Michael Moseley, whom Mr. Gates fired June 5 over lax nuclear weapons controls, vehemently argued in private for producing more F-22 Raptors, an advanced stealth fighter that represents air power’s future.

Gen. Moseley, a fighter pilot with extensive combat experience, argued that Mr. Gates and his budget shop were so focused on providing money for the current wars of counterinsurgency, it shortchanged the Air Force’s future, according to a source close to the Air Force leadership.

The four-star general, who steps aside later this month, wanted an overall larger 2009 defense budget.

“You have to do the whole spectrum of warfare and modernize,” said the source, who asked not to be named because it would jeopardize his contacts. “If something goes up over North Korea, irregular warfare is not going to help you.”

Mr. Gates made a whirlwind tour of Air Force bases last week to reassure a nervous rank and file that firing Gen. Moseley and the service’s top civilian, Michael Wynne, did not signal rough times ahead.

In his talks, Mr. Gates acknowledged unspecified disagreements.

“We’ve had disagreements, to be sure,” the defense chief told Air Force personnel, without elaborating. “There’s little use in pretending otherwise.”

A spokesman for Mr. Gates declined to comment on what disagreements the secretary had with the two men he fired.

Speaking to Air Force personnel last week, Mr. Gates laid down his marker: “There must be focus on the wars we are in, as well as building future capabilities.”

Therein lies the sticking point.

“There is a danger in overfocusing on the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan to the extent we fail to assure our long-term military superiority,” said retired Maj. Gen. Charles Link, a fighter pilot and former Pentagon war planner who keeps tabs on current Air Force thinking.

“The terrorists are a problem,” Gen. Link said. “But they don’t really pose a strategic threat to the United States unless a modern industrial nation-state decides to join them and then you deal with it with strategic power,” he said.

“The North Koreans are not dissuaded from bad acts by our irregular capabilities. They are dissuaded from bad acts from our ability to engage them on a strategic level.”

While Mr. Gates did not specify his disagreements with Gen. Moseley, others said the main snag was the F-22 Raptor fighters. Gen. Moseley wants the current White House-approved acquisition of 183 aircraft bumped up to 381. He argues the $160 million F-22 is far superior to a less-expensive aircraft still in the pipeline, the $77 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

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