The efficiency savings already undertaken by the Department of Defense will not come close to meeting President Obama’s goal of cutting $400 billion in the next 12 years, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.
Gates said that so far efforts to trim the budget have been mixed. The services have found nearly $100 billion in efficiency savings, he said, but efforts to trim overhead costs of DoD components outside the military services were not as successful.
“To realize the projected savings targets will require real cuts, given the escalating costs of so many parts of the defense budget, and, as a result, real choices,” Gates said. “Here I would leave you with a word of caution. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past, where budget targets were met mostly by taking a percentage off the top of everything, the simplest and most politically expedient approach, both inside the Pentagon and outside of it.”
He continued, “That kind of salami-slicing approach preserves overhead and maintains force structure on paper, but results in a hollowing out of the force from a lack of proper training, maintenance and equipment, and manpower. And that’s what happened in the 1970s, a disastrous period for our military, and to a lesser extent during the late 1990s.”
Future cuts will likely mean a small military and a radical redesign of military benefits that will be outlined later this summer with DoD leaders present results of a review of department spending, Gates said.
Gates expects that report to include an examination of military pay, retirement benefits, Tricare fees, weapons acquisition and the fundamental two-war philosophy of the military.
“I would rather have a smaller, superbly capable military than a large, hollow one,” Gates said. “But a smaller one will be able to go fewer places and do fewer things.”