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  • Gates - The Secretary Strikes Back
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 6:05 PM on Apr 07, 2009

    Given Defense Secretary Robert Gates' stated views on "next-war-itis" and "exquisite" technology, the targets for yesterday's attack weren't too surprising. But some did better than expected and some did worse, while some were about in the middle.

    On the losing side:  Not everyone expected Gates to cut off F-22 as hard as he did, cancelling all but four airplanes out of the 20-airplane batch that Congress and the Pentagon have been wrangling over since last year. Much less, nobody expected him to say it was what the USAF wanted. However, nobody in the USAF is going to say anything different, so he can say that.

    The Next Generation Bomber looks very wobbly, and its future will depend on whether the Air Force can advocate for it in the QDR.

    The complete cancellation of CSAR-X, too, indicates that the DoD does not - in the immediate future - see manned airpower going deep into hostile territory on a wide scale. But Gates' criticism of CSAR-X as a "single service solution" may indicate that the role is to be combined with special operations.

    With all its vehicles killed, to be re-launched as individual competitive programs, FCS has been changed beyond recognition - the original goals being lost.

    The politically popular C-17 took what looks like a terminal hit, unless Congress manages to bring it back.

    Better than expected:  Missile defense suffered relatively little, losing the second ABL - not too surprisingly - but at least keeping the first as a test platform (particularly for its high-energy adaptive optics). THAAD and sea-based defense emerged in good shape and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor escaped the axe.

    The endorsement of the Littoral Combat Ship's full 55-vessel program, with no indication of an early downselect or the kind of caveats and conditions attached to DDG-1000, was remarkable, because you can't call the project well-executed so far. But it fits with Gates' limited-war vision, so it gets a pass.

    Another boost to UAV orbits and more focus on "turboprop-powered" platforms - essentially, manned UAV surrogates that are not subject to airspace and bandwidth constraints - was perhaps more then anyone expected.

    One of the biggest single unexpected winners was the announcement of a Trident submarine replacement. This will be a long-term program, but combined with Gates' comments on the bomber, it points to a decision to go ahead with what will probably be a new, smaller and more versatile system, quite likely based on the Virginia-class attack submarine,

    The demise of TSAT, the cut to ten carrier groups (which is happening anyway) and the termination of VH-71 were what a lot of people expected, as was Gates' endorsement of a single-source tanker program.

    Moves on major warships were not a shock.  Congress would likely have reversed any attempt to cancel the DDG-1000s.

    Gates' statements on the JSF were not surprising but will need some clarification:  in his prepared remarks he talked about accelerating the program (although the 30 aircraft in 2010 that he mentioned have been in the plan since 2006) but in his Q&A session he said that some of the extra aircraft would be test assets, reflecting a more cautious approach to the program.

    Quite simply, what he said wasn't enough to base firm conclusions on, although he did say that one motivation was to keep costs down for international partners. Could it be that his "acceleration" was in fact the full or partial reversal of a cut that was on the table but hadn't been published?

    Dogs in the night-time:  No whack order on the F136. UCAS-D survives for now.

    And the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle lives on, even though you could make exactly the same arguments about it as Gates made about the FCS vehicles, and it hasn't been a model of execution either;  and everything the Marines do is a "single-service solution". In that context, it's interesting to note that the biggest all-new aircraft under development in the US, the $100 million CH-53K, passed by unmentioned.

    The question now is whether Gates' tactical move - presenting these disparate measures as an expression of a single strategy - will improve their chances of getting through Congress under the new one-party regime in DC. 

    Tags: ar99, gates, defense cuts

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