Gates says defense cuts will mean smaller military

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates says defense spending is about to enter a steep decline that may force the Pentagon to abandon some military missions, shrink the armed forces and perhaps limit America's role in the world.

In one of his final policy speeches before retiring next month, Gates said he has been disappointed by Pentagon efforts thus far to find budget savings. But he also cautioned that further cuts on the scale proposed by some -- including President Barack Obama -- will require tough decisions on eliminating some weapons and overseas missions.

Gates did not spell out his own vision for how to manage such reductions. But he identified several weapons as "absolutely critical" for the future -- including a new fleet of aerial refueling planes, more Navy ships and a new fleet of nuclear armed submarines.