Naval War College (Newport, RI) as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Newport, RI, Friday, April 17, 2009

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, April 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

Naval War College (Newport, RI) as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Newport, RI, Friday, April 17, 2009


Good morning. It's a real pleasure to be here for my first visit as secretary to the Naval War College. Based on the weather I'm thinking I may move the Pentagon here.

As you may know, this week I have visited each of the service war colleges and I discussed the budget recommendations I have made to the President. Those recommendations have three principal objectives:

* First, to reaffirm our commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force, which, in my view represents America's greatest strategic asset; as Admiral Mullen says, if we don't get the people part of our business right, none of the other decisions will matter;

* Second, to rebalance this department's programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies; and

* Third, in order to do all this, we must reform how and what we buy, meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition, and contracting.

Earlier this week, I was asked why I decided to come to the war colleges to discuss this topic. What I said then, and repeat now, is that these recommendations are less about budget numbers than they are about how the military thinks about the nature of warfare and prepares for the future. About how we take care of our people and institutionalize support for the warfighter for the long term. About the role of the services and how we can buy weapons as jointly as we fight. About reforming our requirements and acquisition processes. These are just the kinds of basic questions you will be dealing with as you go on to command and staff positions.

So, with that in mind, over the next few minutes I want to give you some more insight into the thinking and analysis behind the budget recommendations, and then give you a chance to ask questions and share your views. In many ways, these recommendations are really a reflection of my experience in this job for the last two-plus years.

Starting with the roll-out of the Iraq surge, my overriding priority has been getting the troops at the front everything they need to win, to fight, and to survive while making sure that they and their families are properly cared for when they come home. And whether the issue was outpatient medical care or sending more UAVs and ISR assets to theater, I kept running into the fact that the Department of Defense as an institution--which routinely complained that the rest of government was not at war--was itself not on a war footing, even as young Americans were fighting and dying every day.

For too long there was a view, or a hope, that Iraq and Afghanistan were exotic distractions that would be wrapped up relatively soon--the regimes toppled, the insurgencies crushed, the troops brought home. Therefore, we should not spend too much, or buy too much equipment not already in our long-range procurement plans, or turn our bureaucracies or processes upside down. As a result of these failed assumptions, the kinds of capabilities that were most urgently needed by our warfighters in theater were for the most part fielded ad hoc and on the fly, developed outside the regular bureaucracy and funded in supplemental appropriations that would go away when the wars did--if not sooner.

I concluded that the wars we are in had not earned much of a constituency in the Pentagon, as compared to the services' conventional modernization programs. This did not mean that conventional capabilities and preparing for other contingencies were not important. It was a matter of balance. I just wanted to see that the needs of the warfighter--on the battlefield, at home, or in the hospital--had a seat at the table when priorities were being set and long-term base budget decisions were being made. And one of the things I've learned since entering government 43 years ago is that the best way to ensure that an organization really cares for and protects something is to put that thing in the base budget. …

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