This week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ADM Mike Mullen, testified before the House (HASC) and Senate (SASC) Armed Services Committees on the FY2012 budget.  Secretary Gates said the FY2012 budget request, although lower than previously planned, “will make it possible to protect the U.S. military’s global reach and fighting strength.”  He told members of both committees that the budget reflects almost two years of work to “reduce overhead, cull troubled and excess programs, and rein in personnel and contractor costs.”  Gates said the goal of this effort was to preserve “the fighting strength of America’s military at a time of real stress” by applying savings to new capabilities and program requirements.  In addition, he said these budget adjustments would enable DoD to “become more agile and effective organizations.”  

He stressed the themes of  the FY2012 DoD budget:  1) reaffirm and strengthen the department’s commitment to caring for the all-volunteer force; 2) continue reforming how DoD does business; 3) fund modernization programs needed for future conflicts; and 4) provide troops and commanders the resources to complete their missions.  The secretary described the major components of the budget request and presented some details on how the Military Services reallocated their savings to higher priority programs.  He discussed the restructuring of the F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) program in the context of DoD’s efforts to identify and fix weapons programs that were having” major development problems, unsustainable cost growth, or had grown less relevant to real world needs.” He said the F-35 program would be restructured to stabilize its schedule and cost.  The proposal adds $4 billion for more testing and reduces the total aircraft buy.  Under the proposed plan, the Marine Corps’ Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant would be placed on a two-year probation to see if it can be brought back to its schedule, cost, and performance goals.  Gates said he would recommend cancelation If the program cannot be fixed.  He also highlighted cancelation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) and the reallocation of these funds to Marine Corps ground combat requirements.

Gates again addressed the serious consequences of the significant cut to defense resources if FY2011 were funded under a year-long continuing resolution (CR).  He warned that cutting the FY2011 DoD budget to $523 billion (assumed in a year-long CR) would cause delays and increased costs for procurement and research programs, hinder new program starts, and disrupt production of programs needed for the war.  In addition, he said, because the cuts would most likely fall heaviest on operations and maintenance, it would mean “fewer flying hours, fewer steaming days, and cutbacks in training.”  He urged the Congress to provide at least $540 billion for FY2011 (the request was $549 billion) to avoid serious effect on the military’s mission.  

The secretary also made his case for proposed reductions in Army and Marine Corps ground troop strength beginning in FY2015.  He said the planned troop withdrawals from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 would allow the Army to reduce its force by 27,000 and the Marine Corps by between 15,000 and 20,000 with a minimum of risk.  

For the most part, Committee members supported DoD’s savings and reallocation efforts.  HASC chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that while members may disagree with some specific decisions, in the current fiscal environment “tough choices must be made.”  However, he warned that he and other members would oppose “initiatives that will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight.”  Two issues that elicited some strong reaction from some members were the planned Army and Marine Corps troop cuts and the proposal to increase TRICARE and pharmacy copayments and other fees.