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Gates Aims for ‘Culture of Savings and Restraint’ at Pentagon

January 6, 2011 at 3:43 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. military will undergo a new round of belt-tightening. Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out the plan today.

The announcement came at a time when U.S. troops are still engaged in wars on two fronts. But with federal deficits soaring, Gates moved to address growing demands for savings and possibly to stave off even deeper cuts.

U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: My hope and expectation is that, as a result of these changes over time, what had been a culture of endless money, where cost was rarely a consideration, will become a culture of savings and restraint.

JIM LEHRER: All told, the Gates plan is supposed to save $78 billion in the Pentagon budget through 2016. The defense budget will still grow each year, but more slowly.

As part of the plan, the Pentagon would cancel a $13 billion program to build the new Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle for the U.S. Marines. It was meant to ferry troops from ship to shore while under attack. The secretary also said he will cancel the Marines’ version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, unless its problems are fixed within two years.

Gates had already announced $100 billion in cuts last year, saying the money would be reinvested in troops and weapons. That first round included closing the U.S. Joint Forces Command based in Norfolk, Virginia, a move that was met with stiff resistance.

The number of generals and admirals was to be reduced as well, along with senior civilian positions at the Pentagon.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, defended the effort today.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, Joints Chiefs chairman: We can’t hold ourselves exempt from the belt-tightening. Neither can we allow ourselves to contribute to the very debt that puts our long-term security at risk.

This isn’t about just cutting or saving. It is about readiness. Not only do reforms preserve essential — these reforms preserve essential capabilities, which is the highest priority of this process, but I believe will actually improve our readiness.

JIM LEHRER: The military’s budget for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not affected by the cost savings. And, just today, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed another 1,400 Marines will be heading to Afghanistan.