Gates: runaway military spending may affect war plans

* $10-$15 billion in savings sought

* Spending may be factor in Iran strike debate – Gates

By Adam Entous

ABILENE, Kansas, May 8 (BestGrowthStock) – Defense Secretary Robert
Gates told the U.S. military on Saturday it must rein in
spending that he called out of sync with today’s tough economic
times, and said budget woes could be a factor in deciding
whether to use force against Iran and others.

Promising to play a hands-on role in wringing out savings,
Gates held out the possibility of axing headquarters, merging
whole agencies and culling the officer corps, taking on
entrenched interests sure to put up a fight.

Sticker shock from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also mean
President Barack Obama and Congress may be more cautious about
committing U.S. forces to another costly military engagement,
he said.

“I do think that as we look to the future, particularly for
the next couple of years or so while we’re in Iraq and
Afghanistan, I think the Congress and the president would look
long and hard at another military operation that would cost us
$100 billion a year,” Gates told reporters.

“If there’s a real threat out there, the president and
Congress will spend whatever it takes to protect the nation.
But in situations where there are real choices, I think this
would be a factor,” he added.

Asked if Iran fell into the category where costs would be a
factor in deciding whether to strike over its nuclear program,
Gates said it was unclear. “It depends on developments over the
next year or two,” he said.

Gates said his goal was to cut overhead in the Defense
Department’s nearly $550 billion baseline budget between two to
three percent, or $10 billion to $15 billion per year, starting
in fiscal 2012. The savings would allow the Pentagon to sustain
force levels and free up funds for modernization programs.

Without such savings, Gates said, “it is highly unlikely
that we will achieve the real growth rates necessary to sustain
the current force structure.”

The budget warning was widely seen as part of stepped up
efforts by Gates to define his legacy as Pentagon chief.

The venue Gates chose to deliver his message was the
presidential library of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned about
a “military-industrial complex” in a Jan. 17, 1961, farewell
speech.

‘ROOT-AND-BRANCH’ CHANGES

High unemployment and a record $1.4 trillion budget deficit
are among the toughest domestic challenges Obama faces and
could dim prospects for his Democratic Party in congressional
elections in November.

Gates said the military spending “gusher” sparked by the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States “has been turned
off.” He cited America’s “difficult economic circumstances and
parlous fiscal condition.”

Gates’s call for “root-and-branch” changes and his
questioning of whether the current number of headquarters,
flag-officers and commands were necessary could trigger a
struggle with groups that have major clout in Congress.

Jacques Gansler, who served as the Pentagon’s chief weapons
buyer from 1997 until 2001, said Gates’ biggest hurdle may be
winning over members of Congress who are liable to say: “‘We
all want to make savings but not in my district.'”

Gansler said the secretary’s goal of saving 3 percent was
doable through efficiencies such as greater competition for
contracts, streamlining computer systems and easing
requirements that half of all maintenance work on U.S. weapons
systems be done at U.S. government depots.

“We’ll get this done,” Gates said, promising to spearhead a
review to reduce wasteful spending and slash bureaucratic
overhead. But it is unclear how long Gates will remain in the
job to follow through on what he acknowledged would be a
“long-term process.”

Gates already has angered some vested interests by
persuading Congress to cut, kill or limit a number of
big-ticket military programs, including Lockheed Martin Corp’s
(LMT.N: ) premier F-22 fighter. On Monday, he again questioned
the need for a projected $13.2 billion landing-craft program
for the Marine Corps. The so-called Expeditionary Fighting
Vehicle is to be built by General Dynamics Corp (GD.N: ).

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(Additional reporting to Jim Wolf; Editing by Vicki Allen)

Gates: runaway military spending may affect war plans