By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2008 - When it comes to delays in getting warfighters what they need, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is a man of little patience. Expressing frustration earlier this week about the perceived foot-dragging in getting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates announced that he had stood up a task force to push the issue to the front burner.
Gates told reporters today he's given the task force "some pretty short deadlines." Its first report to him is due next week, and Gates wants its complete job wrapped up in 90 days.
"I have found that perhaps the most effective way to get things done around here is to put pretty short deadlines on things -- and then force them," he said.
So in the weeks ahead, the task force will hone in on two key areas: determining what ISR resources can be moved into the combat theater, and ensuring commands there are making the best use of what they already have.
Gates said he wants the team to take a worldwide inventory of the department's ISR assets – manned and unmanned aircraft, satellites and ground-based sensors, among them – to see if some can be moved into the combat zone.
Even ISR assets now committed to training will be subject to the task force's review.
"If we look at training in a different way than in the past," the secretary wondered, "can we squeeze a little bit more of those capabilities over to Iraq or Afghanistan?"
Meanwhile, Gates said he wants the task force go see firsthand if combat commanders are making the best use of ISR assets they already have. "Are there ways in which, by changing the way they do business in some respects, we can squeeze more capability out of what they already have?" he questioned.
Gates announced April 21 to Air War College students at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., that he had stood up the task force because ISR assets weren't getting where they were needed fast enough. "My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield," he said.
He noted a 25-fold increase since 2001, with 5,000 unmanned aerial vehicles now in the military inventory.
"While we have doubled this capability in recent months, it is still not good enough," he said. "In my view, 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 expressed frustration at the pace of progress, slowed by people "stuck in old ways of doing business" who make instituting change "like pulling teeth." He urged the Air Force audience to cast convention aside to come up with better ways to provide, not only ISR assets, but also other critical support to combat forces.
Today, Gates clarified that his frustration wasn't directed just at the Air Force, but at all the military services too bogged down in bureaucracy to do things quickly.
"It really has to do with institutional barriers here to getting things done quickly," he said. "In too many instances, there is a tendency to look out a year or two years or three years in terms of programs and ... processes as usual."
What's lacking is more "willingness to think out of the box in how do we get more help to the theater now," he said. "How do we help the men and women who are on the front lines out there now?"
This isn't the first time Gates has shaken up the Defense Department to get warfighters what they need. Last year, after reading an article in U.S. News and World Report that described the protection mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles provide against roadside bombs and other explosives, he stood up another task force to speed up getting them to the troops.
After Gates' call to action, the department began jumping through hoops to get the V-hulled vehicles to the theater as quickly as possible -- from fast-tracking the acquisition process to airlifting models as they rolled off the assembly line. Within six months, 1,500 MRAPs had been delivered to the theater. As of April 5, more than 5,000 were in the CentCom area of operations, with thousands more on the way.
Gates traveled to Charleston, S.C., in January to see the progress firsthand. He watched MRAPs being loaded onto C-17 aircraft bound for the theater and toured the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, where teams installed radios, sensors, jammers and other equipment on the massive vehicles.
Speaking to the factory workers, Gates cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt's call to the World War II production lines to raise their sights and prove wrong anyone who said that what they were striving to achieve couldn't be done.
"Those in the MRAP program have shown that it can be done," Gates said. "So keep raising your sights. Keep these vehicles rolling off the line. Your efforts are saving lives."