If US SecDef Robert Gates' unveiling of his budget outline on April 6 was the first shoe dropping, and you thought today's presentation of the DoD's FY2010 budget request would be the other shoe - then the Pentagon must have three legs. Because after sitting through the afternoon's briefings I am certain there is another shoe still to drop - the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
For all its volumes, the 2010 budget is a one-time, one-year budget. There is no FYDP - future-years defense plan - showing projected spending over the next five years. "We don't have a plan beyond 2010," the Pentagon's comptroller admitted to the assembled journos. All the programs in the budget could end next year, for all we know - and some probably will.
More than once, briefers acknowledged that the future of this or that program would have to await the outcome of the QDR, which will take place over the rest of this year and shape defense spending from FY2011 onwards.
Enough already? (Photo: US Navy)
Take the Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Procurement has been cut from the planned 18 aircraft to nine - even though the Navy has an acknowledged shortfall in fighters. The nine E/Fs, plus 22 EA-18Gs, will keep 2010 procurement above the minimum 24 aircraft needed to keep the line open - until after the results of the QDR are known, the Navy briefer said.
"I'm not saying there's not a shortfall," he said, "but the strike fighter gap will be taken up at the QDR." The clear implication is that the size - and very existence - of that gap will be determined by force structure decisions coming out of the QDR. It's not a giant leap to think that the QDR will decide the current fighter force is quite adequate, and there is no shortfall after all.
It's what has already happened to the F-22. In the Pentagon comptroller's words: "187 high-end fighters is enough to meet the high-end threats". If the watchword of the last Quadrennial Defense Review was "transformation", then the theme of the 2010 QDR could well turn out to be "adequacy" or "sufficiency" or "we have enough of those, thank you."