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U.S. defense budget will decline around 20% in coming years.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

The U.S. defense budget will likely decline somewhat in coming years, although it is not clear exactly when or by how much, a top Pentagon official told an investor conference on Thursday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing the military services to find $100 billion in savings from overhead over the next five years to plow back into troop costs and weapons programs, while keeping the overall Pentagon budget growing at about 1 percent a year.

Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said those savings could come under attack from other parts of the government, given the current unprecedented economic crisis and high U.S. debt.

“I think some of that will migrate out,” Cartwright told reporters after a conference hosted by Credit Suisse and Aviation Week, a trade publication. He said he had “zero” confidence that the Pentagon would be able to keep the full $100 billion in savings.

During the conference, Cartwright said past cycles had seen declines of 15 percent to 20 percent in U.S. defense spending, but he was not certain if the coming downturn would be on that scale, given the current high level of U.S. debt.

Cartwright told analysts and industry officials at the conference that the Pentagon needed to dramatically revamp the way it buys weapons given the rapid pace of change in information technology (IT) systems and technologies that could increasingly remove human beings from their operation.

“We’re an industrial organization trapped in an IT world,” Cartwright said, noting that major cultural changes were needed to allow the U.S. military to keep up with rapidly evolving threats that were also increasingly geographically diffused.

He said budget pressures would force the Pentagon to… READ MORE HERE.