By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2011 " The Defense Department would face a crisis if it`s forced to continue operating under a continuing resolution or doesn`t receive the funding it needs, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told Congress today.
In a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing, Gates said President Barack Obama`s fiscal 2012 request for a $553 billion base budget for the Defense Department and an additional request for $117.8 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan culminated a two-year effort to reduce overhead, cull troubled and excess programs and rein in personnel and contractor costs, all for the purpose of preserving the global reach and fighting strength of America`s military at a time of fiscal stress. "
Gates noted that Congress has yet to pass the president`s fiscal 2011 Pentagon budget request, and that the Defense Department is operating under a continuing resolution. Fiscal 2011 began Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.
The president`s defense budget request for [fiscal] 2011 was $549 billion. A full-year continuing resolution would fund the department at about $526 billion, " the secretary said. That`s a cut of $23 billion. Similarly, some of the appropriations proposals under debate in Congress contemplate reductions of $15 billion and more from what the president requested for defense in fiscal year 2011. The damage done across the force from such reductions would be magnified, as they would come halfway through the fiscal year. "
Operating under a year-long continuing resolution or substantially reduced funding would damage procurement and research programs causing delays, rising costs, no new program starts and serious disruptions in the production of high-demand assets such as unmanned aerial vehicles, Gates said, and likely would fall most heavily on operations and maintenance accounts.
Cuts in maintenance could force parts of our aircraft fleet to be grounded and delay needed facilities improvements, " he said. Cuts in operations would mean fewer flying hours, fewer steaming days, and cutbacks in training for home-stationed forces "- all of which directly impacts readiness. That is how you hollow out a military - " when your best people, your veterans of multiple combat deployments, become frustrated and demoralized and, as a result, begin leaving military service. "
The Defense Department must operate on a budget of at least $540 billion for fiscal 2011, Gates said, so the military can properly carry out its mission, maintain and prepare for the future. "
But as the department operates under a continuing resolution, he added, money that would be better spent elsewhere continues to be wasted. Funding for an extra engine in the joint strike fighter is extravagant and unnecessary, the secretary said, and taxpayers are paying $28 million a month for it under the continuing resolution.
When the current continuing resolution expires, I will look at all available legal options to close down this program, " he said. It would be a waste of nearly $3 billion in a time of economic distress, and the money is needed for higher-priority defense efforts. "
Noting a proposed $78 billion reduction in the defense budget`s projected growth rate over the next five years, Gates noted that Defense Department efficiencies and reforms have protected programs that support military people, readiness and modernization and have made it possible for the department to absorb lower projected budget growth.
The savings identified by the services have allowed our military to add some $70 billion toward priority needs and new capabilities, " the secretary said. And of the $78 billion in proposed reductions to the five-year defense budget plan, about $68 billion comes from a combination of shedding excess overhead, improving business practices [and] reducing personnel costs, and from changes to economic assumptions. "
Only $10 billion of the five-year total is related to military combat capability, Gates told the panel, with 40 percent of that figure related to a restructuring of the joint strike fighter program and the rest resulting from Army and Marine Corps end-strength reduction.