Gates plans to slash 'top-heavy' Pentagon hierarchy

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates moved to slash a "top-heavy" military hierarchy, announcing plans to close a major command, eliminate at least 50 posts for generals and admirals, and cut back on the use of contractors.

Mounting the most ambitious Pentagon reform in a decade, Gates said harsh fiscal and economic realities require that it "make every dollar count" as it fights two wars and equips itself to confront potential adversaries elsewhere.

(AFP file) A US soldier patrols with Afghan National Army soldiers in Kandahar province.

President Barack Obama applauded the effort, acknowledging that "change is never easy."

"These reforms will ensure that our nation is safer, stronger, and more fiscally responsible," he said in a statement.

US defense budgets have doubled to some 700 billion dollars a year since 2001, but Gates warned that the Pentagon now needs to tighten its belt to sustain and modernize the US force.

At a press conference, he unveiled a series of measures targeting the proliferation of personnel in his own office, in military headquarters, defense agencies and intelligence-related units.

"The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of restraint," he said.

US military bureaucracies "have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, grown over-reliant on contractors, and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost," he said.

Gates said he would recommend closing the Norfolk, Virginia-based US Joint Forces Command, which was set up to oversee training and foster coordination among the US military services.

The command costs 250 million dollars a year to run, employing 2,800 military and civilian personnel and some 3,000 contractors. Its responsibilities will be turned over to the Joint Staff.

Its new commander is the outgoing head of US military operations in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno. The Senate confirmed Odierno to the job in July.

Gates said that he told Odierno that "his assignment is the same as Iraq, to work himself out of a job and then I'll find a new and better one for him."

Gates also questioned the need for US four-star generals in Europe for each of the military services, and directed a review of all top positions to be completed by November 1.

"At a minimum, I expect this effort to recommend cutting at least 50 general and flag officer positions and 150 senior civilian executive positions over the next two years," he said.

"These reductions would represent 50 percent of the total growth in senior military and civilian positions since 2000," he said. "That's the minimum."

In the meantime, he ordered a freeze on the number of positions in his office, defense agencies and at combatant commands for the next three years, and said no positions would be created to replace contractors.

Since September 2001, the number of generals and admirals has grown by more than 100, and there were now 40 four-star positions, Gates said. He put the increase in the number of senior civilian positions at more than 300.

"We need to create a system of fewer, flatter and more agile and responsive structures, where reductions in rank at the top create a virtuous cascading downward and outward," he said.

Additionally, he ordered a freeze in the number of senior executives in defense intelligence organizations and a comprehensive review of the department's intelligence activities to eliminate "needless duplication."

Gates also took aim at the Defense Department's ballooning contractor forces, which he said had grown to be 39 percent of its total workforce.

"Based on the data available after one year, I'm not satisfied with the progress made to reduce our over-reliance on contractors," Gates said.

"Accordingly, to accelerate this process and achieve additional savings, I have directed that we reduce funding for service support contractors by 10 percent a year for each of the next three years," he said, exempting Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon had said in June that it plans to save 100 billion dollars in operating costs over five years, in order to adapt to tighter budgets.

It was unclear how much money will be saved by the measures announced Monday, or how much support Gates will find for them in the US Congress, whose members jealously protect military-related jobs in their own states.

But Gates said the Pentagon budget needs to grow by two to three percent a year to sustain its current force structure and invest in modernization programs -- one to two percent more than the defense budget is projected to grow.

To avoid a loss in military capabilities, "that spending difference will need to be made elsewhere in the department," he said.

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