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Afghan War  –  New  Defence  Priorities  –  Acquisition  Reforms  –  December  2008

New Model for Defence Procurement:  Low-cost, Multi-purpose
Platforms  –  Coupled  with Cooperation  'Across  the  Services'


Edited excerpts - US Defense Secretary Gates - interviewed  in  Aviation  Week   [1]
US  Secretary  of  Defense,  Robert  M.  Gates,  seeks  to  reform  the  Procurement  Process

Robert Gates, empowered by a mandate from the US President-Elect,  Barack  Obama,  to continue serving as  Secretary of  Defense,  is turning  his attention  to  the  thorny  issues  of  ' acquisition reform ' and the trade-offs involving the fleet size
of the various military services. A reform-minded president-elect backed by Democrats controlling both Chambers of  Congress, means that military officials are  not likely to oppose efforts to fix the current acquisition system. Gates'  initiatives may lead to the termination of  some costly  programs, shifting  the  priorities  of  US  defence  spending.

Of course, the US military services aren't known for collaboration, but recent dismissals of high - ranking  US Air Force staff  seem  to have focused the minds of  other senior military leaders.  Earlier, the Air Force had embarked on a strategy to reduce manpower to fund new aircraft.  Gates  is  totally  against  cutting  manpower  in  order to  fund  [ costly  platforms ].
In  a  time  of   ever - deepening  recession,  there  is  a  nation - wide  clamour  for  financial
belt - tightening.  This could  bring  the  bloated  –  and  parochial  –  Pentagon  to its knees.

"It is going to require a level of cooperation from all the services  –  that has not necessarily been the pattern before," said Gates. The Defense Secretary admitted that he did not  "have very much patience with people that were more focused on [ protecting their own ] budgets, rather  than  getting  the  mission  done".

Gates  intends  to  clean  up  the 'procurement  process'  –  a  system  in  chaos  for  decades

According to a defence specialist at the  Congressional  Research  Service,  the  two  issues [cooperation among the services and acquisition reform] go hand in hand. If  Secretary Gates were able to bring about a  rationalization of  equipment requirements  ' across the services ',
he  said ,  it  would  eliminate  one of  the  major  obstacles  to  defence  acquisition  reform.

Gates wants to "maximize the number of platforms",  rather than buying a few,  highly capable [but very costly] systems. He is concerned about the pattern of investing billions of dollars in systems which, ultimately, the US government "won't have the money to field in any numbers, or where we have to kill the system after we've spent a lot of money on it."

The Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force are likely to be forced into developing a more collaborative strategy for tactical aircraft.  To reduce costs,  these services will be pressed to cooperate  'up front'  -  during the process of  drawing up the requirements for new platforms.

A former Pentagon official  said that  the new  Chiefs of  Staff  have been chosen specifically
to be more collaborative.  Gates,  and his yet-to-be named cast of  political appointees,  must now craft  a new  force structure mix  in the areas of  tactical  aircraft, airlift, and shipbuilding.

To address gaps in capabilities for the [current] war effort,  Gates focused on the deployment of  MRAPs  (mine-resistant  ambush-protected  vehicles)  for  ground  forces  in Iraq.  He also invested  heavily  in low-tech,  ISR  systems  [ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance ].

Gates established  [ Task Force ODIN ]  in order to boost,  quickly and  effectively,  the  ISR assets available to ground forces [ in Iraq and, now, Afghanistan].  Gates believes that these more rudimentary systems  –  such  as  the  C-12s [ Beechcraft  RC-12  King  Air ]  fielded  to collect [ high quality ]  imagery for soldiers in Iraq  –  can also be useful in other war settings.

"These  are  pretty  low - cost  solutions.  The  reality  is,  we  are  going  to  need  [ exactly these  types of  assets ].  We  have  basically  stripped  most  of  the  rest  of  the  world  of these  ISR  capabilities."  Gates  says.  "There  will  be a demand  for  these  capabilities  all over the world, for as far into the  future  as  anyone  can  see  –  whether  it  is  for counter- terrorism,  border  security,  counter - narcotics  –  or  for any new threats and challenges."
               [1]  Interview  conducted  by  Amy  Butler,  Senior  Pentagon  Editor.
                      First  published  online  by  Aviation  Week,  07  December  2008.