U.S. Must Prepare for Varied Threats, Gates Says


By John D. Banusiewicz

The U.S. military must be able to contend with a wide range of asymmetric and conventional threats now and in the future, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

In a speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the secretary emphasized that although he has pushed the services to institutionalize asymmetric and unconventional warfare capabilities, he knows those are not the only kinds of missions for which the military must be prepared.

“But my message to the services is being distorted by some and misunderstood by others,” Gates said. “At the Navy League last year, I suggested that the Navy should think anew about the role of aircraft carriers and the size of amphibious modernization programs. The speech was characterized by some as my doubting the value of carriers and amphibious assault capabilities altogether.

“At West Point last week,” he continued, “I questioned the wisdom of sending large land armies into major conflicts in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and suggested the Army should think about the number and role of heavy armored formations for the future. That’s been interpreted as my questioning the need for the Army at all — or at least one at its present size — the value of heavy armor, generally, and the even the wisdom of our involvement in Afghanistan.”

He added that his advocacy for unmanned aerial vehicles may be construed as an attack on bombers and fighters.

“But my actions and my budgets over the last four years belie these mistaken interpretations,” said Gates, noting that the Defense Department is modernizing the tactical air and bomber fleet.

“For the Navy,” he added, “I have approved continuing the carrier program, but also more attack submarines, a new ballistic missile submarine, and more guided missile destroyers. For the Army, we will invest billions modernizing armored vehicles, tactical communications and other ground combat systems. And the Marine Corps’ existing amphibious assault capabilities will be upgraded and new systems funded for the ship-to-shore mission.”

The secretary pointed out that during his tenure he approved the largest increases in the size of the Army and Marine Corps in decades, stopped Air Force and Navy drawdowns, and supported and presided over the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“All that said, I have also been trying to get across to all of the military services that they will have many and varied missions in the 21st century,” he said. “As a result, they must think harder about the entire range of these missions and how to achieve the right balance of capabilities in an era of tight budgets.”

The United States requires all of the services’ capabilities, the secretary said.

“But the way we use them in the 21st century will almost certainly not be the way they were used in the 20th century,” he added. “Above all, the services must not return to the last century’s mindset after Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather prepare and plan for a very different world than we all left in 2001.”

Moving forward, all of the services need to think aggressively about how to truly take advantage of being part of a joint force for a variety of missions, Gates said.

“We must always guard against the old bureaucratic politics and parochial tendencies –- especially after the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns wind down and budgets become tight,” he said.

“It’s easier to be joint and talk joint when there’s money to go around and a war to be won,” Gates added. “It’s much harder to do when tough choices have to be made within and between the military services –- between what is ideal from a particular service perspective, and what will get the job done taking into account broader priorities and considerations.”

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