By Josh White and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday criticized the U.S. military services for not moving aggressively enough to provide critical resources to the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying it has been "like pulling teeth" to get the Pentagon's conventional Cold War bureaucracy to adapt to the needs of current wars.
In speeches to student officers at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama, and at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Gates challenged the future military leaders to think differently about the nature of war and to move beyond their comfort zones, encouraging innovative thinking and new approaches. He expressed frustration with navigating the Defense Department's tangled bureaucracy and said that some officers within the services are "stuck in old ways of doing business," causing warfighters to suffer.
"We can do and we should do more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt," Gates said. "My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield."
In Alabama, Gates specifically noted his concern with the military's provision of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Iraq and Afghanistan -- aircraft that provide commanders with critical intelligence about the battlefield, including real-time video images. Gates said that while the Air Force and Army have doubled aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities in recent months, it is still not enough.
Gates announced that he has formed a Pentagon-wide task force to examine the use of UAVs, a task force that is expected to look at pushing more aircraft out onto the battlefield over coming months. Defense officials said Gates wants to learn in a matter of days what can be done to respond to the critical need in the field.
There are more than 5,000 UAVs working in Iraq and Afghanistan, some providing round-the-clock coverage and with the capability to strike targets from far above the ground and without putting a pilot's life in danger.
Air Force commanders said yesterday that there has been a 275 percent increase in requests for full-motion video of the battlefield from 2007 to 2008, a ramp-up in demand that has not been met with supply. The Air Force is working to deploy new technology by the end of next year that will dramatically increase such capabilities.
"There's lot of frustration, and this frustration is over how do we get better at what we see as a really critical need that frankly no one saw coming years before," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Blair E. Hansen, director of ISR at Air Force Headquarters. "We've been really aggressive about this for a long time."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates wants to be able to look field commanders in the eye and tell them that they have been given everything the Pentagon can provide. Morrell said Gates wants to encourage more creative thinking to prepare for asymmetric conflicts in the future.
"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism" and become more creative thinkers, Gates said in Alabama.