"Sustaining … the weapons and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who use them is increasingly difficult given the massive growth of other components of the defense budget, the 'tail' if you will -- operations, maintenance, pay and benefits, and other forms of overhead," Gates said in a May 24 speech. "America's defense enterprise has consumed ever higher level of resources as a matter of routine just to maintain, staff and administer itself."
Mullen went further, saying savings should be found in pay and benefits costs before cuts to programs and personnel.
"We need to avoid just making the relatively easy decision [to] just cash in force structure," Mullen said. "We have to go through everything else -- and 'force structure' are platforms and people -- before we get to that point, because that's why we're here."
He added that these cuts will likely need to be made in the next few years in order to "start to generate cash in the out years."
The U.S. doesn't face the same world it saw after the Vietnam War, Mullen argued, when Congress and the Pentagon slashed defense by nearly 40 percent. The threats to U.S. security are real and growing, so gutting aircraft and ship programs would undercut American defense, he said.
"I'm not satisfied with the idea that 'let's just be the best counterinsurgency force we can be in the future,' and that's it," he said. "We still have high-end warfighting requirements that we're going to have to resource, and those are important programs."
Mullen, who's due to leave his post this fall, said the Pentagon is still working out the options on where to find the $400 billion in savings. And while he wasn't sure where the White House would come down on the issue, he was firm in his belief that preserving future hardware is a top priority for the DoD.
"We're at the point where … we have to present 'here are options to execute this,' and those are then decisions that the president has to make," Mullen explained. "So we haven't gotten to the specifics of [whether] the White House supports X, Y and Z."
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