Gates faces political battle over defence cuts

Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, faces a fierce political battle after announcing cuts in America's military spending of $100bn over the next five years, at the cost of thousands of outsourced civilian contracting jobs, and the elimination of an entire military command.

The moves planned by Mr Gates essentially take an axe to the Pentagon's sprawling bureaucracy, to free up money to strengthen America's forces on the ground. Total military spending, currently running at some $700bn (£440bn) annually if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are included, would still continue to rise, he hopes – but by much less than the 7 per cent average in recent budgets.

The most dramatic single step would be the dismantling of US Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Virginia, where 2,800 military and civilians are employed as well as 3,300 private contractors, and whose functions would be taken over by the Pentagon itself.

In all Mr Gates wants to cut outlays for private contractors, outside those in war zones, by 10 per cent. He is also seeking to trim the ranks of admirals and generals, currently at over 1,000, by at least 50 positions, and thin the ranks of the Pentagon's central civilian bureaucracy, the Office of the Secretary of Defence.

Officials yesterday were describing the move as a "pre-emptive strike" to head off demands for even greater cuts in the Pentagon budget, as pressure intensifies on President Barack Obama to tackle the federal deficit, now set to hit $1.4 trillion (£880bn) for 2011, well above earlier estimates.

Unveiling his proposals, Mr Gates made clear the last thing he wanted was an actual cut in America's defence spending, which currently exceeds that of the world's 10 next largest national military budgets combined.

"My greatest fear is that in economic tough times that people will see the defence budget as the place to solve the nation's deficit problems," he said.

Mr Gates is the lone holdover from the Bush era in the top echelons of the Obama administration, and over his near four years in the job has fought hard to trim the fat from the Pentagon. He has cancelled or curtailed programmes reflecting outdated Cold War priorities, notably by capping production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet at 187 aircraft. But the enduring strength of what President Eisenhower described as the "military/industrial complex" always makes such steps complicated – and these cuts will be no exception.

Politicians of every hue from Virginia, likely to be hardest hit by the Gates plan, were united in opposition, as Mark Warner, a former governor of the state and now one of its two senators in Washington, insisted there was "no rational basis" for closing US Joint Command. His colleague James Webb, also a Democrat, warned that the move could "be harmful to the capabilities of the finest military in the world". And Randy Forbes, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, declared that the White House was "selling off our military at auction to pay for its social programmes".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there