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Gates: Defense needs $540 billion for fiscal 2011

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Congress must provide $540 billion to the Defense Department for fiscal 2011 or the department will be in danger of not being able to perform its mission, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here Feb. 14.

Secretary Gates also said he will look at "all legal options" to shut down the extra engine for the joint strike fighter - calling it a waste of $3 billion.

Secretary Gates made the statements during his presentation of the fiscal 2012 defense budget request at the Pentagon. President Barack Obama is asking for a base budget of $553 billion and an overseas contingency operations request of $117.8 billion.

But what Secretary Gates has called the crisis on his doorstep - the possibility that DOD will operate through the remainder of fiscal 2011 on a continuing resolution -- drew sharp remarks from the secretary.

"Exactly a year ago, the president requested $549 billion to operate the Department of Defense during fiscal year 2011," Secretary Gates said. "If forced to operate under a full-year continuing resolution, the department would only receive about $526 billion."

This reduction of $23 billion is magnified because it comes five months into the fiscal year, he said.

"I raise this point today because I am concerned that the debate over the defense budget in recent days and weeks is becoming increasingly distant from the strategic and operational reality -- distant, in other words, from the real world," he said. "In fact, suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math - divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country's security and vital national interests around the world."

Secretary Gates said he understands the department will not get the $549 billion asked for last year. "It is my judgment that the Department of Defense needs an appropriation of at least $540 billion for fiscal year 2011 for the U.S. military to properly carry out its mission, maintain readiness and prepare for the future," he said.

Secretary Gates repeatedly and consistently has called for an end to the joint strike fighter extra engine program. President Obama and the military chiefs have agreed with the secretary, and in a statement released May 28, President Obama vowed to veto any legislation that provides for the extra engine.

"We consider it an unnecessary and extravagant expense, particularly during this period of fiscal contraction," Secretary Gates said Feb. 14.

The secretary said that because Congress has provided "ambiguous guidance" on the engine, he has funded the program on a month-to-month basis, hoping the Congress would resolve the matter.

"However, that also means that the American taxpayers are spending $28 million a month for an excess and unjustified program that is slated for termination," the secretary said. "The president, the military services and I continue to oppose this extra engine and, when the current continuing resolution expires, I will look at all available legal options to close down this program.

"It would be a waste of nearly $3 billion in a time of economic distress, and the money is needed for higher priority defense efforts," he added.

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