Secretary Gates Speaks to the Army War College

Secretary Gates Speaks to the Army War College

Robert Gates - April 16, 2009

SEC. GATES: (Applause.) Good afternoon. Please, be seated.

It's a real pleasure for me to be here on my first visit to the Army War College. Glad to hear there are a few Aggies in the audience.

I understand that you've got the Jim Thorpe sports days coming up next week so -- (cheers) -- so best of luck in your competition against the other war colleges. Although in light of the "jointness" I'm going to talk about here today, I assume you'll appreciate, I can't play favorites. (Laughter.)

This week I'm visiting each of the war colleges to discuss the budget recommendations I have made to the president. Those recommendations have three principal objectives: First, to reaffirm our commitment to take care of the all-volunteer force, which in my view represents America's greatest strategic asset. As Admiral Mullen says, if we don't get the people part of our business right, none of the other decisions will matter.

Second, to rebalance the department's programs in order to institutionalize and enhance our capabilities to fight the wars we are in today and the scenarios we are most likely to face in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a hedge against other risks and contingencies.

And third, in order to do all this, we must reform how and what we buy, meaning a fundamental overhaul of our approach to procurement, acquisition and contracting.

Earlier this week, I was asked why I decided to come to the war colleges to discuss this topic. What I said then and repeat now is that these recommendations are less about budget numbers than they are about how the U.S. military thinks about the nature of warfare and prepares for the future, about how we take care of our people and institutionalize support for the warfighter over the long term, about the role of the services and how we can buy weapons as jointly as we fight, about reforming the requirements and acquisition process. These are just the basic -- kind of basic questions you will be dealing with as you go on to staff and command positions.

So with that in mind, over the next few minutes I want to give you some insight into the thinking and analysis behind the budget recommendations, then give you a chance to ask questions and share your views.

In many ways, these recommendations reflect my experiences in this job for the last two-plus years. Starting with the rollout of the Iraq surge, my overriding priority has been getting troops at the front everything they need to fight, to win and to survive, while making sure that they and their families are properly cared for when they come home.

During this period, I frequently heard from troops and commanders about what they needed most to complete their mission. I went to the hospitals and talked to the wounded, and I went to the bases and talked to the families. And I read about shortfalls and other problems in the newspapers. And then I raised some of the same issues at the Pentagon and heard the building's response about what could be done and how fast. And whether the issue was Walter Reed, fielding MRAPs or sending more UAVs and ISR assets to theater, I kept running into the fact that the Department of Defense as an institution, which routinely complained that the rest of the government wasn't at war, was itself not on a war footing, even as young Americans were fighting and dying every day.

For me, everything kept coming back to a simple question: Is this really the best we can do for our kids?

Much of the problem, in my view, stemmed from the fact that for too long there was a belief or a hope that Iraq and Afghanistan were exotic distractions that would be wrapped up relatively soon -- the regimes toppled, the insurgencies crushed, the troops brought home.

Therefore we should not spend too much or buy too much equipment not already in our long-range procurement plans or turn our bureaucracies and processes upside down. I believe this was the issue with MRAPs, a million-dollar-plus vehicle not thought to have much use beyond Iraq.

As a result of these failed assumptions, the capabilities most urgently needed by our warfighters, were for the most part fielded ad hoc and on the fly, developed outside the regular bureaucracy and funded in supplemental appropriations that would go away when the wars did, if not sooner.

I concluded that the wars we are in had not earned much of a constituency in the Pentagon, as compared to the services' conventional modernization programs. This did not mean that the conventional capabilities and preparing for other contingencies wasn't important. It was a matter of balance.

I just wanted to see that the needs of the warfighter -- on the battlefield, at home or in the hospital -- had a seat at the table, when priorities were being set and sustainable, long-term, base budget decisions were being made.

And one of the things that I've learned, since entering government 43 years ago, is that the best way to ensure that an organization really cares for and protects something is to put that thing in its base budget.

So the top priority recommendation I made to the president, was to move programs that support the warfighters and their families into the services' base budgets, where they can acquire a bureaucratic constituency and sustainable long-term funding.

This shift, at a cost of $13 billion, should be of special significance to our ground forces, which have borne the human and material brunt of the current conflicts.

In these latest recommendations, we put the growth of army end-strength in the base budget while capping the number of BCTs at 45. The purpose was to make sure that the Army has fully manned units ready to deploy, which should mean relying less on stop-loss.

We also boosted funding for helicopter support by $0.5 billion, most of it for the Army, which from day one has been an urgent need in Afghanistan. I was at Fort Rucker on Tuesday and had a chance to see firsthand the outstanding work of the Army aviation community, which gave me a better understanding of the challenges they face, ramping up the Army's rotary wing assets.

Other shifts, of direct import to today's warfighter, include more funds for ISR, Special Operations forces, train-and-equip programs and inter- and-intra-theater lift.

Furthermore, this budget enhances and institutionalizes support for soldiers and their families. These programs include more funding for medical research and treatment for TBI and post-traumatic stress, improved child care, spousal support, housing and education.

These proposals, then, begin the effort to establish an institutional home in the Department of Defense for today's warfighter as well as for tomorrow's.

Another underlying theme in the budget recommendations is the need to think about future conflicts in a different way, to recognize that the black-and-white distinction between conventional war and irregular war is an outdated model. In reality, the future is and will be more complex, where all conflict will range along a broad spectrum of operations and lethality, where even near-peer competitors will use irregular or asymmetric tactics, and non-state actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles.

In one sense, we have been living this reality for some time. In the opening days of Iraqi -- Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. armor and infantry units squared off against the Republican Guard at the front while being harassed by the Fedayeen Saddam in the rear. Last year Russia's relatively crude, though brutally effective, invasion of Georgia using armor and artillery was augmented with a sophisticated cyber-attack and a well-coordinated information operations campaign.

Future adversaries will continue to employ new, readily available technologies in sinister ways.

They will adapt and develop new tactics, techniques and procedures as fast as they can, imagine ways to gain any advantage over us, to get inside our decision cycle. This kind of warfare will require innovative, versatile leaders and capabilities with the maximum possible flexibility and agility to deal with the widest possible range of conflict.

Now, even with this in mind -- and especially, perhaps, with this in mind -- we cannot ignore the risks posed by the military forces of other state actors. This brings me to some of our conventional and strategic modernization programs, which continue to make up the overwhelming bulk of the Pentagon's procurement, research and development accounts.

Broadly speaking, there were several principles or criteria that governed, either in total or in part, most of the major program decisions. The first was to halt or delay production on systems that relied on promising but yet -- as-yet-unproven technology, while continuing to produce and, when necessary, upgrade systems that are best in class and that we know work.

This was a factor in my decisions to cancel the transformational satellite program and instead build more advanced, extremely high-frequency satellites; to cap the Navy's DDG-1000 ships at three while increasing the buy of Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers; and to halt the airborne laser at the research and development phase while increasing funding for the THAAD missile-defense program.

Furthermore, where different modernization programs within services exist to counter roughly the same threat or accomplish roughly the same mission, we should look more to capabilities available across the services.

While the military has made great strides in operating jointly over the past two decades, procurement remains overwhelmingly service-centric. Combat search-and-rescue helicopter, for example, had major development and cost problems, but what cemented my decision to cancel this program was the fact that we were on the verge of launching yet another single-service platform for a mission that, in the real world, is truly joint. This is a question we must consider for all of the services' modernization portfolios.

Finally, I concluded we needed to shift away from the 99-percent exquisite service-centric platforms that are so costly and so complex that they take forever to build, and only then in very limited quantities. With the pace of technological and geopolitical change and the range of possible contingencies, we must look more to the 80-percent solution, the multi-service solution that can be produced on time, on budget and in significant numbers. As Stalin once said, "Quantity has a quality all of its own."

This was a major consideration with shipbuilding and air supremacy. I recommended accelerating the buy of the Navy's littoral combat ship, which, despite cost and development problems, is a versatile vessel that can be produced in quantity and go to places that are either too shallow or too dangerous for the Navy's big blue-water surface combatants. As we saw last week, you don't necessarily need a billion-dollar ship to chase down a bunch of teenage pirates.

With regard to air supremacy, this budget increased funding for the fifth-generation F-35 stealth joint fighter by more than $4 billion. This commitment will accelerate the F-35's development and testing regime to fix the remaining problems and begin rolling out these aircraft in quantity: more than 500 over the next five years, and more than 2,400 for all of the services.

And finally, I looked at whether modernization programs had incorporated the experiences of combat operations since September 11th. This was particularly important to the ground services, which will be in the lead for irregular and hybrid campaigns of the future.

Parts of the Army's Future Combat Systems program have already demonstrated their adaptability and relevance. For example, the connectivity of Warfighter Information Network will dramatically increase the agility and situational awareness of the Army's combat formations. And we'll accelerate its development and field it, along with proven FCS spinoff capabilities, across the entire Army.

But the FCS vehicle program was, despite some adjustments, designed using the same basic assumptions as when FCS was first designed nine years ago. The premise behind the design of these vehicles was that lower weight, greater fuel efficiency and, above all, near-total situational awareness would compensate for less heavy armor -- a premise that I believe was belied by the close-quarters combat, urban warfare and increasingly lethal forms of ambush that we've seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan and that we are likely to see elsewhere as other adversaries probe for and find ways to turn our strengths against us.

Though the Army currently holds a comfortable margin of dominance over any other conventional ground force, the service clearly must have a new, modernized fleet of combat vehicles to replace the Cold War inventory. But before we spend 10 years and $90 billion, and before we send young soldiers downrange, we had better be sure to get it right, or as close to right as we can. So I'm recommending that we cancel the existing FCS vehicle program, reevaluate the requirements, technology and approach in light of our combat and operational experience in two wars; and then re-launch a new Army vehicle modernization program.

There will be substantial money in the FY '10 budget to get started and to make sure this happens. My hope is that we can be ready to move forward in FY '11. And I have directed that all of the money for FCS in the out-years be protected to fund the new vehicle modernization program.

Looking forward, the goal of our weapons buying is to develop a portfolio, a mixture of weapons whose flexibility allows us to respond to a spectrum of contingencies and beyond the horizon. Focusing exclusively or obsessively on a single weapons system designed to do a specific job or confront a single adversary ignores what a truly joint force can and must do in the 21st century.

Where the trend of future conflict is clear, I've made specific recommendations. In other areas, however, I believe we need to develop a more rigorous analytical framework before moving forward, the type of framework that will be provided by the Quadrennial Defense Review. I should note that this will be the first QDR able to fully incorporate the numerous lessons learned on the battlefield these last few years; lessons about what mix of hybrid tactics future adversaries, both state and non-state actors, are likely to pursue.

We've started to address these developments in the budget recommendations. QDR, as well as other assessments, such as the Nuclear Posture Review, will examine these issues more closely. And there's one reason I delayed some decisions to do with, for example, amphibious operations and the next-generation cruiser: to develop an analytical construct through which we can more precisely determine future requirements and what capabilities will be needed.

As we look toward the future, I've directed the QDR team to be realistic about the scenarios where direct U.S. military action might be required; where, for example, it would be necessary or sensible to send a large conventional ground force. The QDR will also take a look at the Army's force mix of heavy and light, active and reserve, and assess whether shifts are needed.

In all, we have to be prepared for the wars we are most likely to fight, not just the wars we've traditionally been best suited to fight or threats we conjure up from potential adversaries who also have limited resources.

And as I've said before, even when considering challenges from nation states with modern militaries, the answer is not necessarily buying more technologically advanced versions of what we built on land, sea and in the air to stop the Soviets during the Cold War.

While there were many other issues that arose and many other decisions that were made, I'd like to give you plenty of time to ask questions. And so I'll close with a final thought.

Behind my desk at the Pentagon are portraits of two Army officers -- Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Marshall. During the Second World War, Marshall said, "We must do everything we could to convince the soldier that we were all solicitude for his well-being. I was for supplying everything we could, and only then requiring him to fight to the death when the time came. You couldn't be severe in your demands unless the soldier was convinced you were doing everything you could to make matters well for him."

These budget recommendations are a start at turning that sentiment into long-term institutional commitment.

Eisenhower and Marshall, of course, had the industrial muscle of a fully mobilized United States behind them during the Second World War. We do not have that today, and will not in the future. But looking ahead, even without Rosie the Riveter, victory gardens and bomb drives, we must find a way to institutionalize a sense of urgency and higher levels of responsiveness in our defense bureaucracies.

The challenge is balancing support for the warfighter in an era of persistent conflict, where good-enough solutions are needed in months, weeks, or better yet, tomorrow, with an entirely different dynamic for conventional and strategic programs, which can take many years to achieve the desired level of technology overmatch. Reconciling these two paradigms is one of the most vexing challenges facing our military institutions, but one I am committed to tackle.

All of the services are challenged to find the right balance between preserving what is unique and valuable in their traditions while at the same time making the changes necessary to win the wars we are in and being prepared for future threats. With this budget, I've tried to make a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs across the services. I ask you to do the same, to look outside your area of specialty and outside your military branch, to look forward with the certainty that the battlefield is constantly evolving and that the United States Army, as part of a joint force, must always be evolving with it.

Thank you for being here this afternoon. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now I'd be happy to take some questions. (Pause.) I was assured you wouldn't be shy.

Q Mr. Secretary, here in the back.


Q My name is Jimmy Vaughn, a DOD civilian. Sir, what are some of the options that you are considering as it relates to piracy off the coast of Somalia?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of our headlights here. We're thinking about this right now. The NSC is carrying forward frequent meetings, practically daily, in terms of looking at those options.

I think that the challenge that we face is -- I think I read somewhere the fact that we're dealing with about 400,000 square miles of ocean, and we hardly have enough ships in the whole Navy to be able to patrol that size area. We do have an international presence there. And I think there is a willingness to take action, more than there has been in the past. We saw that with the French action days before ours.

I think what's instructive is to look at the challenge that we faced not too long ago in the Straits of Malacca, where there was a significant and growing piracy problem. However, in that situation we were dealing with established governments with real capabilities -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and others. And on their own and with help from us, they developed surveillance and patrol capabilities that have significantly reduced the piracy problem in the Straits of Malacca.

So the core problem we have is the ungoverned space that is now Somalia. And one of the questions that I think we have to look at is, do we look at what we might be able to do with regional governments in Somalia; for example, the government in Puntland, which has more capacity than -- seems to me -- than perhaps the government in Mogadishu right now?

Obviously, we're also looking at military -- various military options. We already have our own people on merchant ships that are carrying all-military cargos, that we've chartered. And so the question is, where do you go from there? And we'll also be meeting with -- in fact, I think it's starting today -- meeting with the companies, the shipping companies, to see what they're prepared to do. This clearly has to be a partnership between us and them.

So I think there are a number of options. I think ultimately the solution has to come from the landward side, but the truth of the matter is the poverty is so great and the reward so tremendous and the future prospects for most of these young men so bleak that even if a fair number of them are killed or captured, I think the incentives for them to keep trying will continue to be there.

And so it's a question of how you raise the cost so high that perhaps it begins to diminish their enthusiasm, but at the same time see if we can't get some greater sense of order on land. But there's no question about it, it's a challenging problem.

You had a question back here.

Q Colonel Xavier Stewart. The reserve component, in particular the National Guard, has become an operational force deployed for numerous contingency and combat operations. What are you doing to ensure that the National Guard can fulfill its multi-mission homeland defense security role and provide the continuum of service when it has only 55 percent of its authorized equipment?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, the equipment levels is something that I've -- well, let me start at the broadest level. One of the concerns that I had when I came to this job 29 months ago was whether -- I had several basic questions when I arrived in the job. One was whether the end strength of the Army and the Marine Corps was big enough to accommodate the missions. Another was whether we were on the right path in Afghanistan, obviously had to deal with Iraq.

Another one that I had, though, was whether we had pulled a bait- and-switch on the Reserve component. For a long time, the Reserve component had been a strategic reserve, and we had, I think by inches, turned it into an operational reserve. And I think a lot of people who had spent some years in the Guard and the Reserve and were accustomed to summer training and to monthly meetings and helping in national disasters or in local and regional disasters suddenly found themselves deployed for 15 months to Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I think that that still is a concern for me, for people who have been in for a while. I think the youngsters that have joined since -- since 9/11, and particularly since 2003, have known full well what they were getting into.

We have in the -- from between FY '09 and FY '13, I think $39 billion in the budget for equipment for the National Guard. And what is different about this buy for the National Guard is that, instead of getting equipment that the active force no longer uses, the Guard will be getting the same equipment that the active component is using. So there will be a level of capability in the Reserve component that we have not had before.

Our goal is to get the equipment fill -- the traditional equipment fill for the Guard, going back years, has been about 70 percent. And based on what I'm being told, we should be back at that level by about FY 2011. So there's a lot of attention being paid to the Guard. We've gone ahead, taken the recommendation of the National Commission on the Guard and Reserve, established the director of the Guard Bureau as a four star -- appointed Craig McKinley to that job, Air Force general.

So I think that we're taking a lot of steps to try and not only take care of the equipment fill, but deal with a lot of the implications of the operational role of the Guard.

I think one of the most important things we're doing now is this Yellow Ribbon project. One of the worries that I'd had, for example, with PTS with the Guard and Reserve is that, where in the component, in the active component, soldiers come back and are still around their NCOs and their company officers and so on, and so people are in a position -- and their buddies -- people are in a position to observe them and see if they are detecting any behavioral changes. When the Guard returns, it disperses. And so I think one of the benefits of this Yellow Ribbon program is for us to be able to reach -- have the resources and the capability to reach out and make sure that we're staying in touch with those young men and women as well.

So I think we're on the right path with the Guard and Reserve, but not just in the equipment. One of the questions that I have asked the Quadrennial Defense Review to look at is this balance, or this role for the Guard and Reserve between a strategic reserve and an operational reserve, and what should that balance be going forward. So that's a fundamental question I think that we have to look at. Yes, sir.

Q Good afternoon, sir. Lieutenant Colonel Roger Cott, and thank you for joining us this afternoon. As we study strategic leadership here, we've learned that many times a strategic leader makes decisions and policies that are often resisted by various stakeholders for political, financial and sometimes moral reasons. As a strategic leader, sir, what have been some of your greatest ethical challenges as a leader making decisions, and what recommendations do you have to us?

SEC. GATES: Well, I don't know if -- I would say I probably faced more ethical issues when I was director of CIA than as -- (laughter) -- the secretary of Defense.

I -- my watchword -- and actually, I suppose it's a function of having spent a lifetime in the CIA, or a good part of it -- I believe that the guiding star for me has always been adherence to United States law. And in recognition and embrace of congressional oversight, I have always believed that, as painful and frustrating as it can be, that congressional oversight, whether it's over intelligence or over the military, is absolutely essential to keeping us all on the right track.

I'm sure that we'll have some interesting conversations on the Hill over the next few weeks over a few of the decisions that I've made. I actually kind of look forward to that -- (laughter) -- because I think there is, in some areas, some misunderstanding about the nature of the decisions that have been made.

I think that, you know, in terms of the core of your question, in terms of ethical decisions, I think it's - I guess I would put it in a different way. And what is -- what I have always observed about the president -- presidents, and President Obama is the eighth president I've worked for -- and I find to be the same case as secretary of Defense -- and that is that by the time a decision gets to the president, there are no good options.

If there was a good option, somebody at a lower level would have made the decision and taken credit for it. (Laughter.)

By the time a decision gets to the president or the secretary of Defense, more often than not, you're having to choose the least bad option. And you have -- and the question that is always difficult is sending people into battle and knowing the cost.

I think that has probably for me, in this job, that has been the toughest part of the job. The rest of it all pales by comparison. Knowing what I have to do but knowing the consequences; (audio break) toughest (audio break) not sure it's an ethical issue, but it is the toughest moral issue that I face.

Q (Inaudible.)

I'd like to get your thoughts on a recent Homeland Security document, as well as comments made by Secretary Napolitano, that returning soldiers coming back from the war could be a source of extremists, sort of alluding to perhaps terrorist activity.

SEC. GATES: Well, I've seen -- in fact, I just read about that in the newspapers for the first time this morning. And I haven't read the document. I haven't seen the document. I haven't been briefed on the document. And so having had things taken out of context more than a few times myself, (laughter) I think, before I comment on it, I'd probably better read it.

I realize that's an amazing practice in Washington. But -- (laughter, applause.)

Q (Inaudible.)

Sir, you talked about, you know, the force and focusing on personnel and mentioned several things in the medical arena and quality of life, in terms of taking care of personnel. And then you spent some time about the programs.

My question is, in terms of personnel, thinking more to human-capital development, things that help generate adaptability, versatility and leadership, and dealing with the complexities you laid out, what sort of programmatic changes or emphasis did you devote to improving human-capital development, if any?

SEC. GATES: Actually, I think that -- I think that the -- I think that particularly the uniformed services do an outstanding job of developing the human capital. So my decisions were basically -- or my recommendations have been basically focused on protecting the human capital, of making sure that we are taking care of the human-capital asset that we have in the military. I don't think there's any organization in the world that devotes more effort, more time, more money and more creativity than the American military to developing the men and women in it.

One of the areas where I am working on developing human capital is on the civilian side. For a variety of reasons, a good part of the civilian part of our business has been turned over to contractors. I discovered as we were doing these budget things that I actually have more contractors working for me in the Office of the Secretary of Defense than I do civil servants.

And so I have -- I -- and we are in much the same situation in the whole acquisition, contracting and procurement world. We have thousands and thousands and thousands of contractors helping us manage contractors. And so first thing we're going to do is we're going to rebuild the professional acquisition cadre in the Department of Defense, of professional civil servants. And we will probably, over the next five years -- over the five-year defense plan, our goal is to put in 20,000 professionals -- replacing contractors. And our goal is to try and do a little more than 4,000 of those in FY '10, to get a strong start.

But on the other side, on professional services and management support, we -- the same thing has happened to us. And so we're going to start trying to replace that or to replace contractors with civil servants in that area as well. And we're looking to replace contractors in FY '10 with as many as 13,000 civil servants, with a total of 30,000 civil servants over the FYDP.

So I think we have to turn our attention back, ironically, to developing our civilian human capital in the Department of Defense. And that's the area where, frankly, we can learn a lot from the uniform services.

Yes, sir.

Q Thank you, sir. Lieutenant Colonel Finney. Do you believe there's a need for reform, such as Goldwater-Nichols, to ensure the whole-of-government approach for dealing with domestic and international issues?

SEC. GATES: You know, the Goldwater-Nichols model came up when Congress was considering creating the director of National Intelligence job. And I wrote a -- I wrote Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman a 16-page, double-spaced paper back in 2004 on why I thought that was a bad idea -- which may help explain why I turned the job down in January of 2005. (Chuckles, laughter.)

The problem is Goldwater-Nichols works in the Department of Defense because, at the end of the day, everybody works for one person, and that one person can make everybody do what they're supposed to do. That is not the case with the intelligence community, and it certainly isn't the case with all of the different elements of the government involved, for example, in national security.

Everybody in the government does work for one person, at the end of the day: the president. But you can't make him the action officer. So -- so I think that, you know, this is an issue that this department has really wrestled with during these wars. And frankly, it's an issue that I have addressed on a number of occasions publicly, in terms of the need to balance our capabilities with greater capabilities on the civilian side.

At the end of the day, it seems to me, two things are required. First, you need structures in the government that allow -- that create an environment in which organizations do have to come together and integrate their work. And I think that the National Security Council is the right place, and I think they're moving in the right direction.

Second, you need to give the other side of -- you need to give the rest of the whole of government the resources they need to do their job. We will spend more on health care in the Department of Defense in FY '10 than the entire foreign budget of the government -- foreign assistance, State Department and so on. If you took every Foreign Service officer in the world, it wouldn't be enough to crew one aircraft carrier.

So until those capabilities are strengthened, the ability of the rest of the government to play their proper role is significantly inhibited. The problem in our government has not been a lack of will in the other agencies. It's been a lack of capacity.

I said I had two things. But I would say there's a third. You have to have leadership, at Cabinet departments and at the NSC, who are willing to work together, in a collaborative and cooperative way, who see themselves as a team.

This is a rare thing. For most of my career, the secretary of State and the secretary of Defense weren't on speaking terms. This matters. (Laughter.) In the Reagan administration, not only were the secretary of State and the secretary of Defense not speaking to one another, most of the time, they didn't speak to the national security advisor either. And they all hated the director of CIA. (Laughter.)

So I had said in the past, based on my experience, and I worked on the NSC for four presidents, what advice would I give to a president, in terms of putting together his government, particularly in the national security arena? And I've always said, "Don't hire a bunch of individuals. Hire a team."

Have some sense of how these people are going to work together and whether they will work together. Because if they won't, you will have a hard time being successful.

In a way, I think, President Obama, without us ever having had that conversation, has done that, using this model of team of rivals from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book.

And I would tell you that as was the case with the secretary of State and the national security advisor, in the last administration, I feel that the team we have, in this administration, is a team. I think it's come together very quickly.

And so I think there's a lot of potential to develop the kind of whole-of-government approach. But all three of those criteria need to be met, for it to work.

Yes, sir.

Q (Inaudible.)

I was wondering if you could talk about sort of, in light of the previous question perhaps, the complex contingency operation or nation-building, as I would call it, in Afghanistan and kind of what challenge that presents for the Department of Defense going forward, in terms of sort of who does that, how it should be done, how long it should be done, and the implications for cost and resources.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think if you talk to the -- as you -- as most of you in uniform know, that heretofore, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, a significant percentage of the provincial reconstruction teams have, in fact, been military.

And what I hear when I talk to the brigade commanders, when they do get professional civilians who -- whose lives have been spent figuring out how to help people in developing countries grow better crops or take better care of their animals or put in water systems or educational systems, they are a huge force multiplier. One civilian who knows what they do -- what they are doing and knows it well makes a huge contribution.

And so I hope that the first place -- and I think the first place where you will see this civilian surge in Afghanistan come is in the PRTs, to make those more robust and a higher percentage of civilians in them, people who do this as a profession. This kind of effort is, as everybody in this room knows, not a short-term effort, in terms of trying to bring stability and provide some kind of development.

My view is that the model that I think people should be studying, and probably will study, in terms of military-civilian teamwork and collaboration, is the relationship between Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus in Baghdad. I first joined the government 43 years ago, and I've never seen anything like it. And they were a seamless team. And my hope is that we will have the same kind of thing in Kabul, because I think it's that kind of effort that's required.

But one of the -- one of the biggest challenges that we face in Afghanistan is the coordination of the civilian effort, and it's complicated by the fact that you've got 42 nations in there, not to mention, perhaps, hundreds of NGOs and others. I personally have a huge amount of confidence in Ambassador Kai Eide, and he has finally been given the resources by the U.N. that he needs to do this: a representative in every province, an ability to try and get people together and figure out what needs to be done and what works best.

But I think this is not something -- we finally got this part of it right toward the end of the Vietnam War, with CORDS. We forgot about how to do that. And when I talk about institutionalizing the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not just the fusion of intelligence and operations. It's not just counterinsurgency. It is how you -- it is so we don't forget again, as we did after Vietnam, how to do this. Because it is hard. But, as General Petraeus likes to say, hard is not impossible. Yes, sir.

Q Sir, Colonel Mike Godfrey.

FCS: It's been strongly endorsed by Army leadership throughout the last few years. And it occurred to me, when you briefed everyone on your budget recommendations, that it appeared like a unilateral decision on your part. My question's twofold. One, did Army leadership have a conversation with you about FCS and your recommendation? Were they part of that decision? And two, if they were not, how do you make that decision without that buy-in from the Army service provider?

SEC. GATES: The approach that I had on this -- I -- I'm not smart enough to make decisions without a lot of input from a lot of people. We had meetings on the budget just about every single day from mid -- beginning with a senior leadership meeting in January that included not just the chiefs but the combatant commanders and senior civilians. And we probably had meetings almost every day for three months. I had meetings -- at least two meetings a week with the service chiefs as we went through this long array of programs.

I also -- and I wanted, in particular, for the service chiefs to see what we were doing in the other services. There's always -- there's always the risk that everybody -- each of the services feels like they're -- they are the ones that are being singled out. And I wanted them to see that it was -- that the pain was being shared, and to see the grimaces on the faces of some of their colleagues.

FCS was the hardest decision I had to make, and partly it was because the leadership of the Army was so committed to it. I had a number of meetings. In addition to the group meetings that I just talked about, I had a number of meetings with Secretary Geren and with General Casey. And we talked about it many, many times. And I made a decision that I think it's fair to say they disagree with.

But my view is there are -- I'll give you a couple of -- two or three things that made a big difference to me. First, for a program that had been designed nine years ago, it was either Secretary Geren or General Casey who pointed out within the last 18 months or so, "Gee, the infantry fighting vehicle has a flat bottom and is 18 inches off the ground" -- reflecting no lessons learned.

So they began to figure out how they could put a V-shaped hull on that.

Second, there was to be a common vehicle. And it was to be 30 tons. And we were going to start with a cannon. But as they began working on the infantry fighting vehicle and looking at the lessons learned, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they began adding armor to the infantry fighting vehicle. And all of a sudden, it was looking like 34 tons, 36 tons, 38 tons on a 30-ton chassis. That seems to me to be a problem.

And finally as I said in my remarks, I felt that the contract was not as good a contract as we could have, in terms of how we spend our money. And I guess I would say one other thing.

It was a -- FCS was a revolutionary concept. My experience in government is, when you want to change something all at once and create a whole new thing, you usually end up with an expensive disaster on your hands. When government -- maybe Google can do something revolutionary. But we don't have the agility to do that.

Now, our technologies can be revolutionary. But translating those into production line items, well, you've read the GAO accounts. So one of my concerns was that we were going to spend all this money and without any assurance that at the end of the day, $150 billion later, it would all work the way people thought it would.

And so it seemed to me that as I said in my remarks, there is no question in my mind that the Army needs a vehicle modernization program. I will make the money available for it. I will keep the money that the Army already has.

I think the Army was a little concerned that if FCS was canceled, the money would go someplace else. And I told them that it would not. So I hope we can have a short delay, while we look at the requirements again, absorb the lessons, see if a common vehicle for multiple purposes really works and then move on quickly and have a competitive bidding process, which was not part of the FCS program. We had very little leverage to get cost efficiencies.

So with all those things combined, it seemed to me that it was the right thing to do. And I would tell you that both the chairman and the vice chairman, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in strong support. So it was a tough call. But I must tell you that with each passing day, I'm convinced, it was the right one.

Q Sir, Glenn Ritchie.

In view of the president's request to consider review of the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy, what will be Department of Defense's response, if that's asked for?

SEC. GATES: Well, we will do what the president tells us to. (Laughter, applause.)

The -- there is a law. We will uphold the law. If the law changes, so will our policies. We have begun a dialogue. The chairman and I have begun a dialogue on this with the president. Everybody in this room knows, this is a complex and difficult problem. We have a force that's under considerable strain right now, with two wars.

The president has been clear about where he wants to go and what he thinks needs to be done. But I think that he is approaching this in a deliberate and cautious manner, so that if we do go down that road, we do it right and we do it in a way that mitigates any down sides, problems that might be associated with it.

From the time President Truman signed the executive order for integration in 1948, it was five years before that process was completed. I'm not saying that's a model for this, but I'm saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully.

One more question? Yes, sir.

Q Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Chad McCree. Over this last academic year, we've had a lot of discussion about senior military leaders retiring from the service and then going and talking publicly, not necessarily in a positive manner, about government and government leadership. I'd just like your thoughts on that.

SEC. GATES: Well, I think this is not unique to the military. And what impresses me is, both in and out of uniform, how much smarter everybody is after they retire. (Laughter, applause.)

And all of us here should make a communal pledge that we will not try and get a whole lot smarter after we retire -- (chuckles) -- than in these jobs. (Laughter.)

Thank you all very much. And thank you very much for your service. (Applause.)

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Robert M. Gates is U.S. Secretary of Defense.
The Big Questions in Iraq
David Ignatius · November 12, 2014

Robert Gates


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