A lot of people scratched their heads when the Army issued a request for proposals for the Ground Combat Vehicle it's yearning for -- and then pulled the RFP right back. But for Army Secretary John McHugh, it was a sign of progress, proof that the service is serious about reforming the sometimes dysfunctional way it develops and buys its major equipment.
In a press conference at Monday's AUSA trade show, McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said they thought the Army had made a great deal of progress in acquisition reform over the past 18 months. McHugh said the service has implemented 60 of the 76 recommendations made by the Army Acquisitions Report, and as we recall, the service is studying what it's going to do about the others.
On the GCV RFP, McHugh said the original document had about 1,000 requirements -- "but then we realized, 'Here we go again,'" he said. So even though defense vendors pulled their hair out after having begun work on responding to what they thought the Army wanted, McHugh said it was a positive step for the overall direction of the program. The next GCV RFP had about 300 requirements, and the Army was able to move forward with awarding development contracts earlier this year.
Overall, McHugh said, "I'd give us a B-plus -- work in progress." He said he knew the Army's acquisitions history was not encouraging, and his ears are doubtless still ringing from the AAR's findings about the billions upon billions of dollars the service has wasted on cancelled programs. (Er, not "wasted," because, of course, some portion of goodness from those failed programs may have theoretically carried over into things the Army actually was able to buy.)
Still, there are a lot of skeptics about the Army's aspirations. Senate appropriators want to eliminate funding for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, and the GCV's costs are out of control years before the first one is even built. Finally, the big question was asked: In the face of its internal challenges and the pending budget growth reductions, can the Army build anything new? Or must it rely instead of waves of upgrades to existing equipment, or only fielding new copies of institutions such as the 50 year-old CH-47 Chinook?
No, we can find a balance, Odierno said. "We can't just say we're going to give up on modernization. We have to adjust the rheostat between end strength, modernization and readiness."