The $400 billion Department of Defense budget decrease that President Obama handed Defense Secretary Gates as he was about to walk out the door was not received very well by even Gates. He had already taken a sizable chunk out of DoD by canceling the F-22, the presidential helicopter, the Combat and Search Rescue Helicopter, the Army’s Future Combat Systems, Space Systems and heavy cuts into the Navy’s shipbuilding programs.
Now he was faced with the dilemma of how to do it smarter.
He fundamentally adopted an Irregular War (IW) Strategy that would minimize our ability to handle wars against nations in the future especially in Korea and the Middle East.
He increased the size of the Army and Marines at the expense of the Air Force and Navy, which fit the new Obama administration’s vision of the future.
However, two years later the president, against the wishes of his civilian and military leaders, engaged in a war in Libya that was all done by using the resources of the Air Force and Naval Air Forces.
The successful killing of Qaddafi primarily through air power vindicates this change in strategy.
Life isn’t fair which is why we need to have a funding strategy that is smarter.
Here are some suggestions for Secretary Gates' successor Secretary Panetta:
1. Mr. Gates mandated an increase in the highly effective Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) like the Predator/Reaper at a cost of $4 billion dollars.
Frankly, we already have enough of these aircraft especially with some new RPAs like the larger Global Hawk, Blue Devil 2 Air Ship and the LEM V Hybrid.
These aircraft have more persistence and most of all can perform surveillance operations over a much larger area and vector Reapers for the attack phase.
These new systems also come with multiple sensors that enable these platforms to be far more effective. In other words they act as force multipliers. Three Global Hawk can enable 35 Reapers to be three times more effective -- thus saving $4 billion dollars in new procurement costs.
Unfortunately Secretary Gates did not have an analysis done before he mandated this procurement. However the procurement has not started yet so there is still time for Secretary Panetta to save $4 billion dollars.
2. The Air Force Chief of Staff General Schwartz said at press conference at the Air Force Association that the Air Force might have to field even more of these RPAs. Really?
3. Simultaneously, the Secretary of the Air Force said at the same meeting that there may be more assets in the services inventory than is actually needed and that manpower rates are growing at rates that are not sustainable.
So they have started the debate, which is needed in this budget environment.
4. Another area of a smart defense strategy that saves dollars is retiring the venerable U-2 this coming year. Given the performance of its successor the Global Hawk -- an aircraft which flies three times longer and carries more sensors -- there’s little reason for keeping the U-2 in the air for the next few years. And we can save $2 billion dollars by retiring the U-2 now.
Six billion dollars is a good start for a smarter defense strategy, Secretary Panetta. It is your call now.
Thomas G. McInerney is Fox News military analyst. He is a retired Air Force Lt. Gen who graduated from West Point in 1959 and retired as Assistant Vice Chief of the Air Force.