In his opening statement before the House Armed Services Committee this morning, Secretary of Defense Gates complained that Congressional failure to pass the fiscal 2011 defense budget has resulted in “serious damage" to the military because it is being forced to operate under a continuing resolution, and warned against “receiving a significant funding cut during fiscal year 2011.”
He added that if Congress fails to pass the fiscal 2011 defense budget, the $549 billion budget the President requested would actually be $526 billion—a cut of $23 billion. Add to that the $15 billion in appropriations cuts some in Congress have proposed and “the damage done across the force from such reductions would be magnified” as they come mid-year.
He outlined how readiness, training, and operations would either be hurt or severely curtailed by the failure to enact a budget, warning that such a failure to act “is how you hollow out a military – when your best people, your veterans of multiple combat deployments, become frustrated and demoralized and as a result begin leaving military service” Gates said.
In their opening remarks, Chariman of the committee Rep. Buck McKeon and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith both supported passing the fiscal 2011 budget
Reacting to those who want to cut the fiscal 2011 or 2012 defense budgets even further, Gates said that over the last two defense budgets, the Pentagon and White House have already cut or cancelled $300 billion in programs, initiatives, and efficiencies.
When it comes to troop size, and his proposal to reduce the size of the Army and Marine Corps beginning in fiscal 2015, Gates notes that the Army will still be 40,000 soldiers larger in 2015 than it was when he took over in 2007 if the cuts are enacted, and that the reductions are supported by the chiefs of the Army and Marine Corps. The cuts are possible, he said, because three years ago there were 190,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by the end of 2011, there should be less than 100,000 troops deployed.
One highlight came when Gates and Rep. Duncan Hunter engaged in an extended back and forth when Hunter demanded to know how much money Gates would need to eliminate all threats to the United States. Gates replied that such an idea is impossible, that the threat level will never fall to zero. “If I had $1 trillion, there would still be unfunded requirements,” he said.
Gates said that the challenges in the future that worry him the most are the number of surface ships the Navy has, and the budget stresses that will come from the Navy’s desire for a new ballistic missile submarine. He also expressed concern that the Air Force would be able to afford both a new tanker and a long-range bomber.
After being chastised by members of the committee over huge budgets and failed programs, a visibly irritated Gates warned that he worries about the “disconnect” between the roles and missions given to the military by Congress and the discussion of military budgets on the Hill, which are little more than debates over “math.” He added that while different parts of the executive branch are increasingly integrated in how they deal with security issues, the “jurisdictional lines on the Hill” don’t take into account the integration of the Defense Department and the State Department, resulting in State not getting the funding it needs.
The issue of the Joint Strike Fighter second engine came up time and again, with Gates and Mullen continuously denying the need for the controversial engine. “I cannot make sense of the second engine,” Adm. Mullen said, “we cannot afford to buy the second engine.”