Defense & Homeland Security

Pentagon: Gates will propose savings ‘alternatives’ to hardware cuts

The Pentagon will use the soup-to-nuts security strategy review ordered Wednesday by President Obama to pitch “alternatives” to cutting more weapon programs.

Part of Obama’s plan to pare the federal deficit by $4 trillion will hinge on $400 billion in additional Pentagon cutbacks, “savings” the White House says will be spread out until 2023. That savings drive will be driven by a “fundamental review” of U.S. military missions and “America’s role in a changing world,” Obama said.

{mosads}If lawmakers approve such funding moves, they will be made on top of $178 billion freed up by an internal Defense Department cost-cutting effort completed late last year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was allowed by the White House to keep most of those funds, with about $70 billion going to deficit-reduction efforts.

In several appearances on Capitol Hill in recent months, Gates has said any future cuts in that range would force Pentagon officials to raid procurement accounts — or even cancel big-ticket programs.

Still, “Secretary Gates believes the department … cannot be exempt from efforts to bring federal deficit spending under control,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement emailed to reporters late Wednesday afternoon. “However, it is important that any reduction in funding be shaped by strategy and policy choices and not be a budget math exercise.”

Morrell said Obama’s direction for the comprehensive study “gets the sequence right” because it states the review will be completed before any decisions are made on what “funding options.”

But he made clear Gates plans to avoid proposing changes to — or canceling of — big-ticket weapon programs.

Obama “wants us to continue this effort with the goal of significant additional savings over the coming decade,” Morrell said. “By the same token, the secretary has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability. The comprehensive review of missions, capabilities, and America’s role in the world will identify alternatives for the president’s consideration.”

Gates “believes that this process must be about managing risk associated with future threats and national security challenges and identifying missions that the country is willing to have the military forgo,” Morrell added.

Hours after Obama’s announcement, some Republicans, like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) said Obama’s goal of $400 billion in new defense cuts was troubling.

In a statement, McKeon said he worries the plan would hollow America’s combat arsenal. McKeon also raised concerns about setting a specific dollar amount as a goal before the review is complete.

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