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'Most Likely' Threats Driving Budget, Says Cartwright

In what will become known as the beginning of a major shift in military acquisition and strategy, Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today that the Obama administration can't afford to wait for the 2012 budget to stamp its imprint on the Pentagon and so will make major changes to the 2010 budget. The money will go to systems that address the "most likely" threats, not to those aimed at the "most dangerous" threats, Cartwright told a missile defense conference in Washington.

The country, he said, must fund systems that allow us to “stay ahead of the threat.” No longer can the country afford great weapons that take decades and billions to develop and build.

As examples, Cartwright said the threat cycle for cyber attacks is 14 days and for Improvised Explosive Devices it is roughly 30 days. So our systems and architectures must adapt and get inside these cycles, he said. On a more strategic level, Cartwright said the US must fundamentally change its approach to costs. Weapons systems must impose greater costs on our potential and current enemies than they do on the US. "We have to impose costs on them, not on us," he said.

In a typical tour de force, Cartwright told an audience of about 1,000 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics annual missile defense conference that weapons that take decades to build and can address a limited array of threats will fall by the wayside. The nation, he said, cannot afford this approach any more.

"Would you buy in tough economic times something that does one thing well or something that does 100 things well, and can do things you haven't even thought about yet," he asked rhetorically.

"My money is going to go on sensors and command control," he told the audience. Architectures -- and the systems they serve -- must be changeable, ready to adapt to unforeseen threats with ease.

"We have got to be able to string these things together. Get over the traditional barriers about what domains they fly in, or what INT they are in. The guy who gets a bullet between his eyes couldn’t care less," Cartwright said.

Combine all this with the need to have a global presence and "the emphasis is going to shift to deployed forces, allies and friends," the general said.

Although she did not hear his speech, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, echoed many of Cartwright's themes, in particular the focus on cost. "We need to make some tough defense budget decisions," she said, noting that the "days are over" when the country could "refuse to make hard choices."

The one system she highlighted as a major problem likely to be cut: Airborne Laser, built by Boeing. One likely winner, she identified: the Aegis anti-missile system. “We must seriously consider adding additional Aegis ships and destroyers,” she said, noting the system is operational and proven in testing.

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