Gates outlines commitment to military reform
"To fail -- or to be seen to fail -- in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries," Gates writes, dispelling any notion that he might support a speedy withdrawal of troops from Iraq if such reductions mean worsening security there.
"In Iraq, the number of U.S. combat units there will decline over time -- as it was going to do no matter who was elected president in November," he writes. "Still, there will continue to be some kind of a U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come."
With the Pentagon gearing up to conduct its next Quadrennial Defense Review -- a broad examination of how the services are structured and equipped to meet emerging challenges -- Gates' essay provides a sense of the direction the review is likely to take.
The bulk of Gates' concerns center on military modernization. He notes that higher defense spending will not eliminate national security risks, and says entrenched support for conventional modernization programs at the Pentagon, in industry and Congress is problematic.
"My fundamental concern is there is no commensurate institutional support -- including in the Pentagon -- for the capabilities needed to win today's wars and some of their likely successors," he said.
While maintaining a robust array of conventional weapons and planning for warfare against similarly equipped military forces remains important, Gates called for keeping the conventional threat in perspective: "As much as the Navy has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, for example, in terms of tonnage, its battle fleet is still larger than the next 13 navies combined -- and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners."
"It is true that the United States would be hard-pressed to fight a major conventional ground war elsewhere on short notice, but as I have asked before, where on earth would we do that?" he writes. "U.S. air and sea forces have ample untapped striking power should the need arise to deter or punish aggression -- whether on the Korean Peninsula, in the Persian Gulf, or across the Taiwan Strait."
While the United States is unlikely to embark on another forced regime change anytime soon, Gates writes, "that does not mean it may not face similar challenges in a variety of locales." The military, he says, must do a better job of building capacity in allied foreign governments and their security forces to prevent festering problems in weak states from ballooning into crises requiring U.S. military intervention.
"The United States does not have the luxury of opting out because these scenarios do not conform to preferred notions of the American way of war," he warns.
Gates is concerned that the institutional military -- mainly the bureaucratic organizations and systems for promoting personnel and buying weapons -- is out of sync with the needs of the nation. For example, he says, military promotion systems must reward the importance of advising, training and equipping foreign troops -- something still not considered a career-enhancing path for the best and brightest officers.
Gates is especially critical of military acquisition and procurement operations. He asks why it was necessary to go outside the normal processes to develop technologies to counter roadside bombs, build mine-resistant vehicles, and expand the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Defense Department's conventional modernization programs seek a 99 percent solution over a period of years. Stability and counterinsurgency missions require 75 percent solutions over a period of months. The challenge is whether these two different paradigms can be made to coexist in the U.S. military's mind-set and bureaucracy," Gates writes.
It is essential that strategy and risk drive procurement and not the other way around, he says: "I want to see a defense establishment that can make and implement decisions quickly in support of those on the battlefield."