Soaring health care and pay costs have made it difficult for the U.S. military to "significantly increase our ... capabilities" in recent years, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says.
The Pentagon's health care bill alone, he tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel during a conversation for today's broadcast, has "gone from $19 billion in [the year] 2000 to $55 billion now."
Getting such costs under control will remain critical to ongoing efforts to be ready for future challenges, adds Gates.
And the Pentagon chief, who retires later this month, says that even as the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan hopefully wind down, there will be no shortage of threats for the U.S. military to be preparing for.
There are Iran and North Korea, he notes. Also, "you have a very aggressive weapons building program in China" and revolutions throughout the Middle East.
"The U.S. military has never been at a loss in being told to find things to do," he says. "They've always had a full menu."
We posted part 1 of Gates' conversation with Robert on Wednesday. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of today's interview to the top of this post.