| Afghan War
– New Defence Priorities – Acquisition Reforms
– December 2008
New Model for Defence Procurement: Low-cost,
Platforms – Coupled with Cooperation
'Across the Services'
Edited excerpts - US Defense Secretary Gates - interviewed in
Aviation Week 
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
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
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
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."
 Interview conducted by Amy
Butler, Senior Pentagon Editor.
First published online by Aviation Week,
07 December 2008.