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Obama & Gates vs the US military-industrial complex

Battle of Porkbarrel Hill begins

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Equip the man, don't man the equipment

So what does Gates plan to do with all the money he saves on gold-plated, hi-tech programmes which channel billions into the capital-intensive US arms sector?

Mostly, he's going to spend it on people - primarily on people in uniform - and buy them more of the things which they need for the wars they're fighting now and will probably be fighting for some time.

There's an $11bn increase to the core budget to hire more soldiers and marines, and another two billion for medical research, family support and help for the wounded. Gates says that a lot of this latter was formerly outside the main budget, paid for by supplementary funds given for particular wars. He argues that has to stop, as wars may end but wounded and traumatised veterans don't disappear afterwards.

Even though there are going to be a lot more troops, Gates has also ordered a halt on the increasing number of combat brigades in the US Army. This, he says, will put an end to the damaging "stop-loss" syndrome. This refers to soldiers being held in the army against their will past the end of their hitch, so as to keep units manned up for deployment into combat.

Then the fighting troops are going to get a substantial amount more of what they actually ask for, as opposed to things which might be handy in a hot Cold War.

There's half a billion for training more helicopter crews and mechanics. According to Gates, there's a serious shortage of helicopter hours rather than of helicopters as such, and more trained people will get a lot more of the existing whirlybirds into the air above Afghanistan more of the time.

Similarly, there's a new $2bn core budget for armed Predator robospyplanes, moving them in from the supplemental budget and boosting capability by 60 per cent. There's also more cash for the highly successful "manned unmanned" variations on that theme.

Finally on the vexed question of air combat, Gates has plumped squarely for the middle-of-the-road option, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. He says that the Obama administration will buy hundreds of these in the next few years, and aims for a fleet of more than 2,400 in time.

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