After years of rebuilding a war-weary force, U.S. Army leaders now say they know the budget year the service can shift the funding priority from readiness to future modernization.
Over the next four years, the Army will follow a path that involves upgrading equipment, refurbishing stockpiles of key munitions and adding more soldiers to the ranks.
While readiness remains a priority, leaders maintain that the service is in a lot better shape than it was five years ago, according to Lt. Gen. John Murray, deputy chief of staff for Army G8.
"We have prioritized readiness in particular for the last five or six years, so I fundamentally believe we are in good shape in terms of readiness," he told an audience at the 9th Annual "Dense Programs" Conference, sponsored by McAleese and Associates.
"We should start to reach readiness recovery in about the 2022 time frame; that is what we are projecting," Murray said.
In the Army's proposed fiscal 2019 budget, the service said it plans to buy 148,287 155mm artillery projectiles, compared to last year's purchase of 16,573. It also intends to buy 9,450 Guided Multi Launch Rocket Systems, compared to last year's purchase of 6,084.
"We have made significant investments in preferred munitions," Murray said. "That is to make up for areas we have taken risk in the past because we significantly under-invested in preferred munitions even though they were being expended in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have pretty much maxed out every line in the country in production of munitions," he said.
The fiscal 2019 budget adds 4,000 soldiers to the active force, a "modest-growth" trend the Army intends to follow over the next few years, Murray said, to increase capabilities in the areas of fires, air defense, cyber, electronic warfare and the service's new Security Force Assistance Brigades.
But aside from readiness, future modernization is quickly becoming a priority that can no longer be ignored, he said.
"The Army has to have the ability to do both; we cannot afford to just fund readiness and not modernization and, specific to modernization, we can't just incrementally upgrade current systems," Murray said.
"We also have to invest in new capabilities for the next battlefield because what we have today is good equipment, but it has just about reached the limits of its ability to be upgraded," he said.
Last October, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy launched a massive acquisition reform effort designed to streamline how the service develops new requirements and fields equipment.
The Army will stand up a new Futures Command this summer that will oversee special cross-functional teams (CFTs) made up of members of requirements, technology development, acquisitions and operational communities.
The CFTs will work to find new ways to rapidly develop and field new platforms in the Army's six modernization priorities -- long-range precision fires; next-generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift; a mobile and expeditionary network; air and missile defense capabilities; and soldier lethality, Army officials say.
"The CFTs are meeting with the vice chief of staff and the under secretary, on most weeks, two to three times a week for direct oversight," Murray said.
At the end of April, Army Secretary Mark Esper is scheduled to present the service's "comprehensive modernization strategy" to Congress, Murray said.
The Army conducted "science and technology reviews last fall and moved $2.3 billion across two different reviews to align now 80 percent of our S&T portfolio against these six unique capability" areas, McCarthy said.
As the Army nears its readiness goals, leaders plan to shift more money from readiness to modernization as officials prepare future budget program objective memorandums, or POMs, Murray said.
"I have commitment from the secretary and the under secretary that, if we achieve that readiness rate, we will work the readiness accounts as we invest more into the modernization accounts," he said. "I won't give you a dollar figure, but it is pretty significant dollars we are working into the 2020 POM submission in support of the CFTs."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.