- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who cut major weapons programs during 4½ years at the Pentagon, is warning against “hollowing out” the U.S. military through unwise spending cuts planned by the Obama administration.

“I am determined that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, where budget targets were met mostly by taking a percentage off the top,” Mr. Gates said in a speech to a conservative think tank Tuesday.

“That kind of salami-slicing approach preserves overhead and maintains force structure on paper, but results in a hollowing out of the force from a lack of proper training, maintenance and equipment - and manpower.”

A similar slashing of defense spending in the 1970s was “a disastrous period for our military and, to a lesser extent, during the late 1990s,” Mr. Gates told a gathering at the American Enterprise Institute.

He said improperly cutting force size also could produce a “hollowing effect” that would limit the military’s global reach, noting “a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

The United States, Mr. Gates said, has “a special position and set of responsibilities on this planet.” Quoting Winston Churchill, he said the price of greatness is responsibility - and the people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.

To counteract the 2007-08 economic recession, the Obama administration singled out the military for sharp spending cuts, Mr. Gates said.

Defense spending and force cuts are expected as the military struggles to re-equip and modernize forces weakened by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while facing new and evolving threats at a time of mounting federal debt and austerity, Mr. Gates said.

President Obama announced April 13 that, as part of the administration’s effort to reduce the federal deficit, national security spending would be cut by $400 billion over 12 years. Most of the cuts will come from the Pentagon, which has an annual defense budget of about $530 billion, Mr. Gates said.

The defense chief said the president’s plan and another deficit-cutting plan that would trim defense spending by $1.3 trillion have triggered debate on “the size, use and cost” of military forces and “the appropriate role of the United States in the world.”

The reality is that “absent a catastrophic international conflict or a new existential threat, we are not likely to return to Cold War levels of defense expenditures, at least as a share of national wealth, anytime soon,” Mr. Gates said.

Edward Timperlake, a former Pentagon technology security official, said Mr. Gates‘ comments were surprising because of the defense cuts he already imposed.

“He’s already hollowed Air Force by cutting F-22 and other programs,” Mr. Timperlake said.

As defense secretary, Mr. Gates shifted U.S. military weapons development toward fighting counterinsurgency warfare, based on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his speech, he said his priority was to meet “urgent battlefield needs,” including medical care and equipment, armored vehicles and increased spying, including more drone aircraft.

Critics have dubbed Mr. Gates‘ defense strategy as a focus on preparing to fight “Gen. Custer-type conflicts,” after the ill-fated Indian fighter of the 19th century, while not preparing enough for potential, large-scale conventional wars against states like China, a resurgent Russia and Iran.

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