Gates Has a Big Problem

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he has “a big problem” with the House Armed Services Committee addition of 12 F-22 Raptors to the 2010 defense budget. He told reporters at the Pentagon June 18 that the reason is “because it continues the F-22 program, which is contrary to the recommendations I made to the President.” However, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), who as chairman of the committee’s air and land forces panel put forth the additional Raptors, says we need them to provide “breathing room” to keep F-22 production going while debate continues on national strategy as the Pentagon works through the Quadrennial Defense Review. For Gates that debate is obviously over. In a direct slap at the professional opinion expressed recently by Air Combat Command boss Gen. John Corley that the current national military strategy requires more than 187 F-22 fighters, Gates told the reporters: “Frankly, to be blunt about it, the notion that not buying 60 more F-22s imperils the national security of the United States I find completely nonsense.” With that statement, Gates not only derides Corley’s judgment but also that of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who has acknowledged the fiscal constraints that make a smaller F-22 force necessary, but who has stated publicly that the current military requirement is for 243 Raptors. Asked when he would recommend a presidential veto, Gates said, “I’m not going to go that far at this point.” Abercrombie, however, meeting with reporters, openly ridiculed the notion of a veto, claiming that President Obama would be uncharacteristically foolhardy to veto a defense bill over the issue of a few airplanes. Abercrombie added that, in any event, a veto would be met in a flash with an override by huge supermajorities in each chamber. (Gates press briefing transcript)