Military spending review exposes sharp divisions

US lawmakers gave a mixed response to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's plans to overhaul military spending. Senator John McCain, Republican head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it was "a step in the right direction".


AFP - US lawmakers gave a sharply mixed welcome Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's plans to overhaul military spending, with some vowing to undo a dangerous wartime "gutting" of the Pentagon.

Others warned against "myopically" focusing on current threats while curbing spending on projects that may one day be needed to deter potential threats from Iran, North Korea or even China and Russia.

Gates drew praise from Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Republican, who said in a statement during a trip to Asia that the Pentagon's new outlook was "a major step in the right direction."

"It has long been necessary to shift spending away from weapon systems plagued by scheduling and cost overruns to ones that strike the correct balance between the needs of our deployed forces and the requirements for meeting the emerging threats of tomorrow," said McCain.

But another Republican on the panel, Senator James Inhofe, denounced the Gates blueprint from a windy tarmac in Afghanistan and said lawmakers worried about US forces in harm's way must "try to keep this from taking place."

"I can't believe what we heard today," he said in a video on his official Internet site. "We have our men and women in uniform in harm's way, and we hear an announcement we're cutting, and I would say gutting, our military."

Gates, a holdover from former president George W. Bush's administration, said his recommended budget for 2010 would "profoundly reform" military spending, calling for cuts to major weapons programs such as F-22 fighter jets.

Gates said he was proposing canceling a new presidential helicopter, ending production of the F-22 Raptors and delaying ship building plans, while bolstering funding for surveillance drones and other resources for counter-insurgency campaigns like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In the absence of a more detailed description of the strategic underpinnings justifying his funding priorities -- including an assessment of the level of risk posed to US national security interests -- it is difficult to evaluate them in isolation," said Democratic Senator Jim Webb.

Webb, a former secretary of the US Navy, signalled concerns about cuts in that service's abilituies, citing China's "rapid, comprehensive modernization of its armed forces, including its Navy."

"We in Congress must consider the secretary’s proposal carefully in our oversight role.  We will do so in the months ahead after the defense budget is formally delivered to Congress," said Webb.

Democratic Representative John Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, called the proposals "an important first step in balancing the department's wants with our nation's needs.

"However, the committee will carefully review the department's recommendations in the context of current and future threats when we receive the detailed fiscal year 2010 budget request," said Murtha.

Representative John McHugh, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "concerned about the tradeoffs" in Gates's plan and warned it could amount to an eight-billion-dollar cut in military spending.

Moreover, "just a day after North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile the secretary missed an opportunity to recommit to investment in missile defense capabilities," he said.

Republican Representative Mike Coffman, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, also cited North Korea's launch but highlighted possible future clashes with countries like Russia or China.

"We need to ensure we never myopically focus on today's threat environment at the expense of maintaining the conventional capabilities necessary to deter tomorrow's potential threats to US security interests by Iran, North Korea, China and Russia," he said.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning