Army Defends Shortchanging Future Modernization in 2019 Budget

Bell's V-280 Valor tilt-rotor helicopter, which looks similar to the Osprey, recently made its first flight over Amarillo, Texas. Courtesy of Bell Helicopter
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Last fall, Army leaders launched a high-priority effort to develop futuristic helicopters, armored vehicles and other weapon systems for the next war. But the service plans to spend most of its fiscal 2019 modernization dollars on legacy systems, and in the process, shortchange future research efforts.

For months, senior leaders have been stressing that the Army can no longer continue to make incremental improvements to its outdated fleet of aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles and fires platforms. Instead, they argue that the service must begin to build a future fleet of modern weapons systems capable of out-matching the modernized fleets of Russia and China.

In October, the Army announced it was standing up a new Modernization Command as part of a sweeping reform effort aimed at fixing the service's problem-plagued modernization engine.

The command's modernization work will be conducted through "cross-functional teams," or CFTs, that focus on each of the of the Army's six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, a mobile and expeditionary network, air and missile defense capabilities and soldier lethality.

But the Army earmarked less than $300 million in research dollars for those six new priorities when the service recently unveiled its proposed $182 billion spending plan for fiscal 2019.

The fiscal 2019 budget is $13 billion more than service's fiscal 2018 request of $169 billion.

The Army has requested $37 billion for its modernization account, but nearly $27 billion of that money will go to the procurement account for buying improved versions of legacy systems such as the M1 Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle as well as newer UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

The spending plan boosts modernization of the armored combat vehicle fleet with an increase of $4.5 billion over last year's $2.4 billion request.

The procurement account would also pay for the replenishment of critical munition stockpiles, purchasing 148,287 155mm artillery projectiles compared to last year's purchase of 16,573. It also buys 9,450 Guided Multi-Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) compared to last year's purchase of 6,084.

The Army is requesting $10.2 billion for Research, Development, Technology and Evaluation efforts compared to $9.4 billion requested last year.

It will fund programs such as Mobile Protected Firepower, or light tank, current long range precision fires and Short Range Air Defense, or M-SHORAD.

As far as support for the Army's six new modernization priorities, the budget pulls $234 million out of underperforming programs in the science and technology portfolio and spreads it across those key areas, Army budget officials maintain.

"We aligned S&T dollars towards those six to make sure that we had money in those six priorities," said Davis Welch, deputy director of Army Budget, adding that it is too early in the modernization reform effort to funnel large amounts of research dollars into fledgling research programs.

"You need to realize that, the direction of the CFTs and looking at the modernization task force that was announced in October; they are only standing up now,” he said. “So to put a large amount of money in S&T that's undefined is not appropriate, and I don't think it would be supported by Congress."

Once these CFTs mature and start to demonstrate that they can push these technology advancements through the development process, "I think you are going to be able to see ... a greater amount that could be put into RDT&E,” Welch said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.