Cut more weapons

Guest editorials do not necessarily reflect Herald-Leader views.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made a credible effort to bring new discipline and focus to military spending after the unrestrained, inchoate years of the Bush administration.

He has made tougher choices than his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, and shifted billions of dollars from complex systems of little use in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to weapons needed right now by troops fighting today's wars.

The only problem is that he did not go far enough.

Much is being made of his plans to cut the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet when, in fact, he wants to purchase four more of the planes, for a total of 187. Production should halt at 183.

At his news conference on Monday, Gates vowed to end programs that significantly exceed their budgets or use limited tax dollars to buy "more capability than the nation needs."

If ever there was a weapon that met these criteria, it is the F-22. It was designed for combat against the Soviet Union and has not been used in the wars this country is actually fighting. The Air Force's new high-performance F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which begins production in 2012 and which Gates is wisely supporting, uses stealth technology to elude enemy radar like the F-22. It should be sufficient.

We have long argued for canceling the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, a stealthy blue-water combat ship designed to fight the kind of mid-ocean battles no other nation is preparing to wage.

Gates wants to buy three of them; that money should be invested in better, cheaper ships like the DDG-51 destroyer, which has been the mainstay of the fleet for years and which Gates proposes to resume producing.

He should have cut deeper than $1.4 billion into the unproven missile defense program and gone forward with planned reductions in the size of the active-duty Navy and Air Force. He should, however, be commended for scaling back the Army's Future Combat System.

The Pentagon's procurement system has so run amok that 70 percent of the weapons were over budget last year by a total $296 billion.

That's real money for spending on other vital programs. Gates says procurement reform is a priority — and it must be.