Gates to chart path to steeper defense cuts

By ROBERT BURNS | May 24, 2011 | 3:15 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of Robert Gates' final tasks before retiring as defense secretary is to set the Pentagon on a budget-cutting course he had spent much of his 4 1/2-year tenure trying to avoid. It's a path that could shrink the military's role in the world.

Gates is taking that road, despite his worry about eroding military strength, because President Barack Obama in April ordered up another $400 billion in defense savings over the coming 12 years.

No details have been decided, but Gates has said savings on that scale are not possible without slicing military power.

The Pentagon chief is expected to elaborate on his approach in a speech today at a think tank. His staff has billed it as his final policy speech in Washington before he retires June 30.