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John D. Banusiewicz - American Forces Press Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md., April 7, 2010 - Getting special operations forces a seat at the defense budget table has been a priority since he took office, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy here tonight.
Gates explained his rationale during a question-and-answer session following a speech he gave as part of the academy's Forrestal Lecture series.
When he came to the Pentagon in December 2006, the secretary said, he faced two problems. The first was that the Pentagon is an institution designed to plan for a war, not to wage one.
"I didn't know where to go in the Pentagon to find people who were coming in to work every day saying, 'What can I do to help the warfighter be successful today?' Gates said. "The other challenge was how do I get the guys who are in the wars today a place at the table when it comes to allocating the budget? It wasn't how big was their place going to be, it was how do we get them to the table at all?"
About 10 percent of the procurement defense budget is for irregular warfare, Gates said, while 50 percent is devoted to future conflicts and the remaining 40 percent is for "dual-capable" equipment that will be used for any range of conflict.
"So the struggle was not how to equalize the irregular-warfare guys and the future-threats guys," he said. "It was just how do I get the irregular [warfare] guys to the table in the first place?"
Virtually all of the U.S. Special Operations Command's budget when he took office was in supplemental funding, Gates said, and he wanted to make it part of the department's base budget to ensure special operations forces would get the funding they need once supplemental funding was no longer forthcoming. It was important, he said, to institutionalize funding for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, which are used in the full range of conflict, and especially in counterinsurgency operations.
"So this is all about how we can get all of the players to the table so that we have the full range of capabilities to deal with the threats and the challenges that the country is going to face over the next several decades," he said, noting that six months before they happened, no one predicted the conflicts in which the United States has engaged since the Vietnam War.
"Nobody predicted even in July of 1990 that by December we would have a half million troops in Saudi Arabia," he said. "Nobody predicted that we would be engaged in Grenada or Haiti or Panama or the Balkans or Somalia. So I have to build a force that has the range of capabilities to handle all of these challenges and has the flexibility to deal with them all at the same time."
Repeating that 50 percent of defense procurement spending goes toward far-term, more sophisticated challenges, Gates told the midshipmen that he's not shortchanging the future. "I just want to get the guys who are in the battle today to the budget table so that we can make the investments that we need to win."