High-Tech vs. Low-Tech, Conventional vs. Non-Conventional, Near-Term vs. Long-Term: Debate Continues Inside and Outside Pentagon

December 11, 2008

Government Relations Update - Defense

Providing an unvarnished glimpse of the Obama administration’s impending DoD playbook, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently laid out his vision for a 21st century U.S. national defense strategy in the January edition of Foreign Affairs. According to Gates, the increasing prolificacy of asymmetrical threats requires the U.S. to supplement its conventional warfare strength with non-conventional prowess by “institutionalizing counterinsurgency skills” at the Pentagon.

Expanding upon the “balanced strategy” within the DoD’s National Defense Strategy that was signed in June, Gates warned the defense establishment from becoming “preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as those the United States is in today,”  and cited the Pentagon’s early procurement and acquisition delays with Mine Resistant Protection Vehicles (MRAPs) and technology to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as clear examples of bureaucratic hurdles that necessitate reform. 

DoD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed Gates’ conviction that increasing the development of low-tech weaponry used to fight counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan must begin with internal restructuring. "He wants to get acquisition and procurement back on track," said Morrell, "He is not looking to build a new railway, but he is determined to put them back on the rails." 

In April, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force was established by Gates to set forth personnel and equipment recommendations to better meet military commanders’ current demands, an initial component of realizing Gates’ overarching vision. Following the Secretary’s recent public statements, it can be expected that the Department’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget will reflect many of his recent sentiments.

CBP Report Stresses Near-Term Threats

Outside the Pentagon, a newly released report issued by the non-partisan Center for National Policy (CNP) recommends boosting the U.S. Navy’s total fleet goal of 313 ships to 325 by 2025, ultimately shifting focus to lower-cost platforms such as nuclear submarines and DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Destroyers, while scrapping “unnecessary and costly design requirements from new or planned ships.”

The report, titled Agility Across the Spectrum: A Future Force Blueprint, lays out several policy recommendations that are “prioritized by winning today’s wars, supporting the troops and expanding the forces, preventing future conflicts, winning future wars and cutting costs.”

In terms of Air Force modernization, the CNP advocates diverting funding away from the F-22A Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in order to increase procurement of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). Echoing the general approach conveyed by Secretary Gates, the report says that although the long-term security threats posed by China and Russia highlight the need for conventional weaponry such as the F-22A program, increased attention must be directed towards fighting the unconventional wars of the present.

Congress Weighs in on Army Modernization

According to Inside the Army, more than 50 House members recently sent a letter to the DoD urging full funding for the Stryker and Abrams Tank programs in FY10 and all subsequent years as authorized.

The December 1 letter stems from lawmaker concerns that were originally raised in September after reports circulated that the Army intended to finance the Future Combat Systems modernization effort by cutting nearly $1.3 billion from tank upgrade procurement accounts in FY10 through FY12.

However, since that time, sources close to the matter have stated that nearly $600 million in funding for a multi-year Abrams tank modernization contract has been restored, ultimately reversing a key element of the Army’s original proposal.

McHugh Elected Republican Leader of House Armed Services Committee

Congressman John M. McHugh (NY-23rd) announced today that he has been elected Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee by the Republican Conference. Congressman McHugh will assume the position of Republican Leader of the Armed Services Committee when the new Congress convenes in January.

In a statement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) noted that “[McHugh’s] experience dealing with critical defense issues, particularly military personnel issues, will serve him, our committee, and our country well.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the former chairman and current Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee who is retiring at the end of the 110th Congress, stated, “John McHugh brings a great intellect and strong leadership capabilities to the position of the Ranking Member. The Republican leadership of the Armed Services Committee could not be in better hands.”  

McHugh currently serves as the Ranking Member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee and has served on the Armed Services Committee since his election to Congress in 1993.  McHugh previously served as Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee from 2001-2007 and Chairman of the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Panel from 1995-2000.  As Ranking Member of the full Armed Services Committee, Congressman McHugh will be responsible for leading the Republican agenda on the Committee.

Presidential Transition Update

According to the Associated Press, officials close to Gates believe that roughly a dozen of the Secretary’s closest aides will remain on board after Inauguration day, while the departure of all other political-appointments is imminent.

"Virtually every political appointee in the Department of Defense before yesterday assumed he or she would be replaced on January 20 or soon thereafter," Gates told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing last week. "That assumption remains as valid today as it was before."

However, a swift exit is becoming less likely for Army Secretary Pete Geren, Navy Secretary Donald Winter, and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley considering that the principal deputy positions for the services are either vacated or soon-to-be, creating a dilemma that may cause all three men to retain their positions until replacements are sworn-in.

Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to identify select developments that may be of interest to readers. The information contained herein is abridged and summarized from various sources, the accuracy and completeness of which cannot be assured. This alert should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel.