Gates announces major Pentagon priority shifts

One of the high-profile programs on the chopping block is the 
Air Force's most expensive fighter, the  F-22 Raptor.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a 2010 Pentagon budget Monday that reflects major changes in the "scope and significance" of Defense Department priorities.

Three key priorities are reflected in the changes, Gates said. The priorities include a stronger institutional commitment to the military’s all-volunteer force, a decision to “rebalance” defense programs to better fight current and future conflicts, and “fundamental overhauls” of the military’s procurement, acquisition and contracting process. Among other things, Gates called for production of the Air Force’s most expensive fighter, the F-22 Raptor, to be phased out by fiscal year 2011. He also called for terminating a proposed fleet of 23 presidential helicopters estimated to cost more than $13 billion. The proposed fleet, he noted, was originally projected to cost $6.5 billion. It “has fallen six years behind schedule and runs the risk of not delivering the requested capability,” he said. Gates maintained that a new fleet of presidential helicopters will still ultimately be necessary, however. To help create a more mobile, flexible force, Gates proposed boosting special operations personnel by 2,800, or 5 percent, as well as purchasing aircraft designed to provide greater lift mobility and rapid transportation of those forces.

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Among other things, he cited a proposed increase in the purchase of “littoral combat ships, a key capability for presence, stability and counterinsurgency operations in coastal regions” from two to three ships. The Pentagon’s ultimate goal, he said, is to acquire 55 of these ships. He also called for an additional $500 million “to increase our capacity to field and sustain more helicopters, a capability that is in urgent demand in Afghanistan.” The proposed overall fiscal year 2010 Defense Department budget is almost $534 billion, or nearly $664 billion when including the costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current Pentagon budget totals slightly over $513 billion, or almost $655 billion including the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. “This is a reform budget, reflecting lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. … [But] there’s no question that a lot of these decisions will be controversial,” Gates said. He called on Congress to “rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interests of the nation as a whole.”