Commentary: Gates makes right call on defense cuts

Defense Secretary Robert Gates looked at the future of budget politics and saw a major squeeze looming. To maintain the current force structure, the defense budget must rise by up to 3 percent a year, but current projections call for only a 1 percent increase.

Better to find significant savings now, before Congress comes after the Pentagon budget with a meat ax. And so Gates came up with a plan, announced earlier this week, to find $100 billion in savings over the next five years.

The first steps in that effort raised eyebrows: They included the shuttering of the Virginia-based Joint Forces Command, with 5,000 people on the payroll.

Some of the people in that command will be reassigned rather than released, but it was a clear message that Gates means business. His plan won’t result in a net decrease in the budget; the savings will be reallocated to ensure that defense capabilities remain strong despite the increasingly ominous fiscal climate.

But if approved by Congress, the plan will help avoid a return to the "hollow force" of the 1970s. With two wars still under way, the combat arms are continuing to vacuum up resources at a rapid rate.

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