In his testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that the Air Force’s Next Generation bomber might become a casualty of the U.S. economic downturn and the resulting smaller defense budget. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D-In.), asked Gates about public comments he had previously made in favor of a new bomber and asked what steps DOD was taking to make sure the bomber comes on line by the stated goal of 2018.
“I made that speech at a time when the economic outlook was rather different than it is now and the prospects for the defense budget perhaps different. We need to look at all of the aspects of our strategic posture, the role of a next generation bomber, along with some of the other systems we’ve been talking about, clearly have to be a focus of the Quadrennial Defense Review. It is my intent to launch that next month, and to do so in an accelerated way, so it can if not shape the FY 2010 budget have a dramatic impact on the FY 2011 budget and the bomber would be looked at in that context,” Gates said.
Bayh asked Gates if DOD had any unfunded “reset” requirements that should be included in the Obama administration’s planned economic stimulus package. Gates said he did not, if the requests included in the FY 2009 supplemental were properly funded.
In his prepared statement, Gates addressed the Air Force’s spotty record on managing the nuclear weapons inventory. “The stewardship of that arsenal is perhaps the military’s most sensitive mission – with no margin for error. That there should be any question in that regard is why recent lapses in the handling of nuclear weapons and material were so grave.” He said the Air Force has taken significant steps to improve its “nuclear stewardship.”
“A task force headed by former Energy and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger has now reported. It has identified many trends, both recent and long-term, that may warrant corrective action. Among its recommendations: • A new assistant secretary of defense for deterrence to oversee nuclear management; and • Develop and maintain a strategic roadmap to modernize and sustain our nuclear forces. I will be evaluating all of the Schlesinger Commission recommendations along with the new service secretaries and defense team.”