Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent the leading defense appropriators and authorizers an unusual Dec. 31 letter in which he told them he thought it was likely the Pentagon would need an additional $69.7 billion in wartime spending.
What makes the letter unusual is that Gates makes clear the number is not the administration's position but his own. While he appears to just be taking the careful route here, leaving the incoming Obama administration some wiggle room, I don't remember a defense secretary doing something like this after more than a decade of defense reporting. Then again, we haven't had very many defense secretaries stay from one administration to the next, let alone when the administrations come from differing parties.
Gates' estimate would bring fiscal 2009 war costs up to $135.6 billion and he makes it clear in his letter that this does not include costs for items such as new F-18s, or, more importantly in terms of sheer dollars, the costs of the increased forces soon to be sent to Afghanistan.
Another interesting point is that Gates' estimate is $10 billion smaller than an earlier Pentagon estimate. Perhaps this is the first glimmer of the new realities the country -- and the Pentagon -- faces as a result of the global financial crisis.