WASHINGTON – As the Bush administration was drawing to a close, Robert M. Gates, whose two years as defense secretary had been devoted to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, felt compelled to warn his successor of a crisis closer to home.
The United States "cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything," Gates said. The next defense secretary, he warned, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. What Gates didn't know was that he would be that successor. Now, as the only Bush Cabinet member to remain under President Obama, Gates is preparing the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon's weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War, according to aides. Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the offi cials said. More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said. As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects. "He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation's security," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. Gates is not the first secretary to try to change military priorities. His predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, sought to retool the military but succeeded in cancelling only one major project, an Army artillery system. Former vice president Dick Cheney's efforts as defense chief under the first President Bush, meanwhile, are cited as a case study in the resistance of the military, defense industry, and Capitol Hill. Cheney canceled the Marine Corps' troubled V-22 Osprey aircraft not once, but four times, only to see Congress reverse the decision. "There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country," William S. Cohen, former Republican senator from Maine who was Defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said in an interview. "Even though members of Congress may say, 'It's great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,' they will also say 'that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can't go along with that.'