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What can Robert Gates achieve in extra year at Pentagon?

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He was largely successful in canceling or slowing programs that he deemed irrelevant, most notably the F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighter, which was cast as
an outdated technology more suitable for a conventional war than for tracking terrorists.

The question is whether Gates will simply steward the reforms he put in place last year or seek to expand them. Mr. Harrison believes he will go further.

Harrison likens the challenges the Defense Department confronts to that of GM: high healthcare, pension, and personnel costs. He believes Gates may try to rein in some of those costs, which now account for some 60 percent of the budget.

Under Gates, the size of the Army and Marine Corps has expanded by about 90,000 to its current size of 1.4 million. To attract and retain troops, the Pentagon has also increased pay and other benefits, raising basic pay 37 percent since 2001. Counting other benefits, the average junior enlisted service member makes the equivalent of about $43,000 annually now, according to the Pentagon.

The fiscal 2011 budget is expected to be released early next month. Gates may use it for another round of cuts to programs. The Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, for example, represents only a small portion of the defense budget but has grown expensive at the same time that it is being increasingly seen as ineffective in today’s wars.

Challenge ahead: a shrinking budget?

During the next few years, the Pentagon expects to have less money to spend, but it’s unclear how much less, if at all, from the $534 billion budget released a year ago.

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