TIME’s View of SecDef Gates’ “Taming of the Shrew”
I like Dr. Robert Gates. I like him because he, as I did, served in the U.S. Air Force (as an intelligence officer at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri), and because he was the President of Texas A&M University, my Alma Mater.
But, more importantly, I admire and respect the Secretary of Defense, for, in my opinion, having restored the image and the credibility of our Defense Department, after six disastrous years of the Rumsfeld regime, and for, as TIME Magazine puts it, cleaning up “the mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
I respect him even more for, as an Independent who served in public offices exclusively for Republican administrations, agreeing to continue to serve our military and our country under a Democratic administration.
In an article this week, “Taming the System,” Time says: “In his two years as Defense Secretary, Robert Gates has earned high marks for candor and common sense.” and with a reference to the main subject of the article, “But curbing the Pentagon’s appetite for expensive new weapons could be his biggest challenge yet.”
TIME confirms that “Gates’ first showdown looms with a $350 million–a–pop fighter jet.” [ Author’s—de Wind—Note: That figure, for the F-22, includes research and and development costs; current production costs are around $142 million “a-pop”]:
He has to decide by March 1 whether to add more F-22 Raptor fighters to the 183 purchased by the Bush Administration. For years, the Air Force has wanted to double the fleet, while Gates has made clear that he thinks 183 is sufficient. A month ago, some Air Force officials were saying privately that maybe 60 more F-22s would suffice. The Pentagon’s acquisition boss, John Young, recently detailed why more F-22s might be a poor investment. The F-22s that exist are ready to fly only 62% of the time and haven’t met most of their performance goals. “The airplane is proving very expensive to operate, not seeing the mission-capable rates we expected, and it’s complex to maintain,” Young said. Besides, he added, the Air Force plans on spending $8 billion to upgrade most of the F-22s it already has.
TIME continues to address the upcoming F-22 decision by focusing on unmanned aircraft, e.g. drones, and suggesting that “Indeed, it is only a matter of time before combat pilots, like biplanes, become obsolete.” An assertion that will be hotly disputed by fighter pilots everywhere and by the U.S. Air Force.
Tail-mounted GPS kits have given even dumb bombs amazing accuracy once they are pushed out the door of a lumbering cargo plane. Missiles launched from ships or subs have further minimized the need for penetrating warplanes. Meanwhile, much of the Raptor’s sky-high price–and that of accompanying jammer planes and rescue helicopters–is driven by the need to get the pilot into harm’s way and then safely out. Even worse, while the Air Force wants more fighters from a bygone era, it has been underbuying the drones that will rule the skies in the future. Though the number of unmanned aircraft is soaring, it hasn’t kept pace with the demand in Afghanistan and Iraq, where requirements for full-motion video are growing 300% annually. For every F-22 that isn’t bought, the Air Force could add about a dozen desperately needed drones to its fleet.
I know that the author, Mark Thompson, will have a lot of mail to answer on this.
But, TIME is right that very tough decisions lie ahead for Mr. Gates, working with drastically shrinking budgets, during tough economic times; while facing some very powerful, military-spending-friendly members of Congress; and while facing a Defense Department culture that favors “99% exquisite solutions over a five- or six- or 10-year period” to a “75% solution in weeks or months.”
If anyone can successfully juggle all this and come up with the right decisions, I have no doubt, it will be ex-Air Force, ex-Aggie president, Bob Gates.
F-22 Photo: Lockheed Martin