COLUMBIA — There are smart ways to reduce the size of the nation’s defense budget without cutting the overall size of the country’s forces, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.
Instead of reducing the size of the military, Gates said he would recommend consolidating underutilized military bases, as well as decommissioning aircraft models that are rarely or no longer used.
“A number of those planes don’t even fly anymore,” Gates said, mentioning the C-5A Galaxy cargo plane specifically. “The Congress will not allow the Air Force to decommission those aircraft. ... We don’t need them.”
Gates spoke to media before an address to graduates of the University of South Carolina, during which he received an honorary degree of doctor of public service. The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency became defense secretary in 2006 under President George W. Bush and continued under President Obama until retiring in June 2011.
Gates has served as president of Texas A&M University. He is currently chancellor at The College of William & Mary, succeeding former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Gates didn’t name any specific bases he felt should be targeted for closure but noted that funding reduction decisions on both installations and aircraft are often mired in political debate among members of Congress.
If he were currently leading the Defense Department, Gates said he would argue against any further budget reductions.
“The Defense budget shouldn’t be reduced in dramatic ways, certainly shouldn’t be reduced beyond the $300 billion that I cut it and the additional $485 billion that the president has directed,” he said. “To go beyond that ... would be disastrous.”
Gates referred to the automatic cuts known as the sequester that require $42 billion to be shaved from the Pentagon’s budget by the end of September. The military also has to absorb a $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next 10 years, as required by the Budget Control Act passed in 2011.
In his address, Gates told graduates of his trips to visit troops abroad, many of whom were no older than most university students, and encouraged them to consider public service.
“While the obstacles to getting this country back on track are steep, we also have the means at our disposal to overcome them,” Gates said. “It will require the willingness of our best and brightest young people of all walks of life, men and women like you.”