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Army leaders want to transform their service the way their counterparts did in the 1980s when the Army built the legacy systems known as the “Big Five” that soldiers still use today -- the Abrams tank, Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, Apache helicopter, Black Hawk helicopter, and Patriot air defense system.
The Army is entering a period of transition after spending the past 11 years fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers see technology outpacing their aging vehicles and weapons.
The service wants to make wholesale replacements or upgrades to some of the Army’s warhorses such as the Humvee, the Bradley, and its entire stock of radios. Unlike the 1980s, the Army will not have the benefit of the Cold War threat, which gave it essentially a blank check from lawmakers to restock its forces.
However, Heidi Shyu, the Army’s top acquisition official, wants the Army to take this opportunity to think big – big as in figuring out what the Army will look like in 2042. Shyu has ordered the service to formulate a 30-year modernization strategy to plan what soldiers will need in terms of equipment, weapons and vehicles these next three decades.
It’s a bold move in the face of tightening budgets that could get tighter if Congress fails to avoid sequestration and the Pentagon is forced to cut planned defense spending by an additional $500 billion over the next decade.
The Army’s Research, Development, and Acquisition budget dropped from $26 billion in 2012 to $24.3 billion put forth in the President’s 2013 budget requests.
Those cuts have motivated Shyu and the Army’s acquisition team to take a new tack. Too often the Army has sacrificed research and development funding that has spurred Army innovation for short term fixes, said Mary Miller, the Army’s acting deputy secretary for Research and Technology.
Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has forced the Army to depend on quick reaction purchases like the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to save soldiers’ lives. While proven valuable in Iraq and Afghanistan, rapid acquisition purchases left shortcomings in training and accounting for life cycle costs, said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
“That’s absolutely 180 degrees from what we want to do. Organizations naturally go through periods of adaptation and innovation. Adaptation, that short-term piece usually driven by crisis, we’ve been doing that for ten years. It’s in the periods of investment, which is when you transition,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center. “That’s when we need our [Science and Technology funding].”
Shyu will include the entire Army in this 30-year modernization strategy. For too long the Army has been disjointed in its modernization efforts with development engineers cut off from those who oversee equipment sustainment.
“It’s not just the S&T community which does have that kind of horizon for its future, but it’s the whole Army collectively looking at where we need to get,” Miller said Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington D.C.
The Army will have to account for the new defense strategy and the pivot to the Pacific as part of their modernization strategy. Shyu highlighted emerging threats such as cyber attacks and electronic warfare as ones the Army will have to focus on in the future.
“The pivot tells me the next step the Army needs to go is figuring out how to address an environment that is more contested. That means we have to focus on cyber warfare, we have to focus on working in an electronic warfare environment,” Shyu said. “We have to focus on air and missile defense.”
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said the service will remain committed to centering their modernization strategy on the soldiers and the squad.
“We must empower them with unmatched lethality, protection, and situational awareness to achieve tactical dominance,” Odierno said at the AUSA Eisenhower Luncheon.
He spoke about the service’s work to develop the Army Network with a special focus on battlefield communications on the move. Odierno said the Army must continue to improve connections from the top headquarters down to the individual soldier “to ensure leaders have the right information at the right time to make the best possible decisions.”
This focus on technical innovation within communications will help shape the early stages of the 30-year strategy, Army officials said. Upgrades have started to adapt the Army’s entire vehicle fleet to run the new communications backbone, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), in everything from MRAPs to Abrams tanks.
The new defense strategy demands any modernization strategy must account for a wide range of threats while working in flexibility to vehicles and equipment to adapt to troops’ needs, said Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, the Army deputy chief of staff, G-8.
“We’ve got to look at a robust modernization program. It has to be a program that can achieve flexible, full spectrum capabilities and it’s across … a broad range of threats and taking those threats and integrating them as we look at a modernization program moving forward,” Barclay said.
Even as Army generals line up to laud the importance of research and development efforts, the Army doesn’t expect to increase its Science and Technology funding.
Shyu said she was pleased to see the Army protect the $2.2 billion the Army received in its S&T budget in 2012. She called it the “seed corn of the future.” Shyu wants the Army to use the existing S&T funding more efficiently and better align research investments to programs of record.
“I am not anticipating a large increase in the S&T budget, but I do expect is in the declining budgets we might be able to hold our own to critically look at how we are spending the money and spending it where we absolutely have to,” Miller said.
There are those who doubt such a long range modernization strategy as the Pentagons has repeatedly highlighted the military’s inability to predict future threats and capabilities accurately. The Army especially has suffered when trying to develop technological advances as evidenced by the failures in the Future Combat Systems program.
However, the Army has had innovation breakthroughs such as night vision goggles and the foresight to invest in combat systems like the Abrams tank that have served the Army well for decades. Walker said these examples prove the Army can do it again.
Shyu wants to make sure the Army has a plan in place usher in the next great idea and ensure the service is ready for it.