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The FULL Defense Technologies Report Series

Entries in Gates (4)


Gates leaves strange, new (better) world in defense

An article on Danger Room provides a thorough overview of the technological legacy left by outgoing U.S. SECDEF Robert Gates. Pragmatic and highly effective (in my opinion), Gates made tough decisions and generally eschewed the media spotlight to focus instead on delivering critical warfighting technologies and setting the stage for reasonable cuts and future savings. Some highlights of his tenure from the Danger Room article:


 After DoD worried about deploying too many MRAP's into theater, "A dumbfounded Gates went outside the typical Pentagon procurement process to surge them into Iraq and Afghanistan at the torrid rate of over 1000 per month, culminating in a whopping 27,000 of them purchased. With homemade bombs surging as well in Afghanistan, Gates' MRAP push saved the lives and limbs of thousands of soldiers and Marines."


"All of a sudden the military had a whole new option against terrorists in places it couldn't invade. From 2004 to 2007, Predators launched merely nine strikes into Pakistan. The upgraded drones turned that into a full-fledged shadow war, with 33 strikes in 2008, rising to a stunning 118 in 2010. Those drones are now patrolling Yemen and Libya..."

Future Combat Systems

"Future Combat Systems was the smorgasbord of Army programs: a series of armored vehicles, sensors, data links, ground robots, cannons, even wearable computers for dismounted soldiers. Developed before the Iraq war, the Army kept adding stuff on to it, its chief of staff admitted, as insurgent bombs kept blowing up lightly armored tanks. The result was an unaffordable $200 billion mess."


"Ordered into existence by Gates in 2009, Cyber Command is supposed to defend military networks from hostile infiltration. At least that's the most public description of what the command will do. Booting hostile servers off-line? Who knows. Its leadership vows to have nearly no role in protecting the civilian, commercial internet. But in the fall, Gates penned an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security outlining circumstances where Cyber Command could get involved if other defenses are overwhelmed."

These are my highlights. See all 13 described here. Photo above from U.S. Air Force by way of Danger Room.

Gates at West Point: End to Ground Wars?

Danger Room has a solid commentary on the seemingly bizarre speach Secretary Gates gave recently at West Point, where he suggested that the age of large-scale deployments of ground forces has come to an end. This may seem like a strange, even questionable, message to deliver to a graduating class of future Army officers, but it's really not different than what has been happening to the Army since before the Iraq war.

Gates is not really implying an end to the importance of the Army or ground forces, just a continued shift away from heavy armored/mechanized forces to lighter, more deployable expeditionary forces. 

“The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counter-terrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response or stability or security-force assistance missions,” Gates said.

This trend started nearly 15 years ago with the initial fieldings of the lighter, wheeled Stryker brigades and the reflagging of heavy armor units into (relatively) lighter forces. Gates' message is likely a sign that the Army will continue to look at this heavy/light balance -- but it's probably not an indication that big cuts to the Army's force structure are imminent.

Having said that, however, some observers are right to challenge Gates' ideas about the restructuring of ground forces and their role in future conflicts. As the same article points out:

Readers might be forgiven for hearing echoes of Rumsfeld’s doomed “net-centric” Army in Gates’ comments. There was a good reason Rumsfeld’s Army reforms stalled: traditional, big war ground forces are still really useful — even for so-called “low-intensity” operations, like counterinsurgencies. As both Iraq and Afghanistan proved, it’s the heavy weaponry that opens up a country for the lighter forces to chase guerrillas or rebuild shattered states. It’s the heavy weaponry that often protects those light forces. Your infantry may not survive without plenty of armor, in other words.


The Military-Civilian Divide

Defense Secretary Robert Gates should be applauded for speaking out on the growing divide between military service and mainstream society. Speaking at Duke University on September 29th, Gates expressed his concern that today less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the armed forces. From an AP article on the speech:

"Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction — a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally"

This is a complex and sensitive issue – one that Gates is approaching rather gently leading up to his retirement next year – with worrying implications about the civilian-military balance of power that has governed our military forces throughout our history. To be clear, Gates is probably less focused on the issue of marshalling and maintaining public support for war fighting than he is on the increasing alienation of those who serve and an emerging disdain for civilian leadership (or civilians period).

"There is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend"

Geographically, as economic power & diversity concentrates around denser, urban areas  across the country, military installations are pushed out to the fringe in more rural, lower income areas. Consider that most people who do serve cite connection to a family member or growing up around the military as by far the top motivator for choosing the military themselves --- and it’s easy to see the self perpetuating nature of this shift. In a more topical view, could there be evidence of this alienation already in the inexplicable and depressing final act of GEN McChrystal in Afghanistan?

Secretary Gates is not exactly promoting any single solution to this problem. He wants to ensure that the military can attract and retain the right talent, even in a period of budgetary downsizing. There will (hopefully) be plenty of debate and many differing perspectives on this issue. Those in the business of doing business with the military should rightfully push for DoD to build more economic connections to the armed forces by encouraging entrepreneurialism and a strong, diverse industrial base to support the military. The Government should make and follow through on commitment to small businesses and to improved partnering with all businesses, not just those firms at the very top of the defense industry. They should enhance technology venturing and investing, direct into the commercial market, and give young engineers a reason to create solutions for the ground-breaking technologies that DoD wants. They can do more to tell the good story that defense is about more than bombs and tanks --- it’s actually the forefront of mobile computing, network communications, power & battery tech, advanced materials, complex event processing & knowledge management, alternative fuels… an impressive list of leading edge, super cool technologies that should be winning more engineers and entrepreneurs from Google and Apple.

Preventing large scale social and cultural isolation of the military will take more than better recruiting and benefits, more so than even can be done within the military ranks at all. Business can bring people closer to the spirit of military service and deepen the connections across different segments of society to those who serve. Hopefully Gates agrees.


Gates Warns Murtha on Defense Bill

Following talk of Congress potentially trying to add back in spending for unwanted defense acquisitions, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent a letter threatening a veto if "dud" programs were added back into the final conference bill. See the coverage on Danger Room:

“The defense spending bill should not provide funding for weapons that are not working or are no longer needed,” he wrote to Rep. John Murtha, the chairman of the House appropriations defense subcommittee and long-time mouthpiece for the military-industrial complex’s worst inclinations.

See the full letter here.