Gates Follows Through
The Pentagon is finally cutting expensive weapons programs it doesn't need.
This is remarkable: In his budget address today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates actually did what he has said he'd do for some time now—killed or slashed a bunch of weapons programs that don't fill the needs of modern warfare, vastly boosted spending for weapons that do, and took the first steps toward truly reforming the way the Pentagon does business.
• He really did recommend halting production of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter aircraft at its current level of 187 planes—against the wishes of the Air Force brass, most of whom are former fighter pilots who cherish this Cold War relic above all other programs, even though it has never been used in any of the wars we've been fighting the past few years.
• He eased out the Navy's DDG-1000 stealth destroyer, ending the program with its third ship, to be funded next year, and instead restarted the older but still quite capable DDG-51.
• He canceled the most baroque and expensive components of the Army's Future Combat Systems program and called for a re-evaluation of what kinds of weapons the Army needs in general.
• He also killed two of the most troubled programs in the Missile Defense Agency, the Airborne Laser aircraft and the Multiple Kill Vehicle, cutting the overall agency budget by $1.4 billion, about 15 percent of its total budget (a pittance, but a deeper cut than any other secretary or Congress has ordered since the program began).
At the same time:
• He requested a $2 billion increase for drones such as Predators, which have dramatically improved intelligence and counterterrorism efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, increasing their deployed numbers by 62 percent (by 127 percent compared with a year ago).
• He more than doubled the purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters—the smaller, slightly cheaper stealth aircraft—from 14 in 2009 to 30 in 2010 (way too many, in my mind, given the problems with this program, too, but perhaps Gates felt he needed to compensate politically for killing the F-22).
• He boosted the fiscal year 2010 purchase of Littoral Combat Ships, for counterinsurgency operations to coastal regions, from two ships to three.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Robert Gates by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press.