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US Army Chief announces major reorganization for how Army develops, buys weapons

A soldier outfitted with the US Army's Modular Handgun System during tests at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, August 27, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Lewis Perkins)
October 11, 2017

The U.S. Army is about to launch a reorganization to streamline and centralize the buying, building, replacing and testing of weapons and equipment, according to a letter released Friday to general officers by Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. A more formal announcement of the effort is expected during the Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C. next week.

“Today, our Army is not institutionally organized to deliver modem critical capabilities to Soldiers and combat formations quickly. Our current modernization system is an Industrial Age model,” reads the letter. “Our recent focus on fighting wars of insurgency and terrorism allowed our adversaries to make improvements on their modernization efforts and erode our advantages enjoyed since World War II.”

Take that to mean: 20 years of shooting up the desert has allowed China and Russia a lot of breathing room to arm up against the United States. The U.S. Army is playing catch-up.

In response, the letter announces that the Army is going to put much more buying, prototyping, testing, and wargaming under one roof — what the letter describes as “Unity of command and unity of effort.”

Today, buying, testing, and researching is spread across a variety of Army outfits, including Training and Doctrine Command, the Army Capabilities Integration Center, and the Army Deputy Chief Staff G-8.

The Army has not yet named a leader for the new effort.

Centralization could help the Army streamline the way it communicates with industry, academia, and partner militaries by giving them one point of contact. The new effort won’t add “additional force structure” according to the letter, so the Army won’t be getting any bigger.

It also outlines six “modernization priorities,” all technologies that the Army has said it wants to build but now wants to kick into high gear. Many have faced delays and setbacks. They are:

  • Long-Range Precision Fires: missiles that can fire 400 kilometers, to replace ATACMS.
  • Next-Generation Combat Vehicles. The Army is looking for a heavily armed, super-mobile, optionally unmanned vehicle.
  • Helicopters and vertical lift aircraft of various sizes and shapes. These, too, shall be “manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned” as well as survivable.
  • A communication network that works amid heavy jamming and electronic warfare.
  • Better defenses against missiles and drones.
  • Better soldier-worn sensors, body armor, and “load-bearing exoskeletons,” as well as other tech for dismounted soldiers, under the category of ‘soldier lethality.”

Playing Catch-Up

Centralizing a bunch of activities that several outfits now do will likely ignite some controversy. For some, the change will represent a loss of turf.

But critics in Congress and in prominent Washington think tanks have been calling out Army leaders for declines in research and development funding and recent program failures. Those trends, coupled with uncertainty about future budgets, have “left the Army in a precarious position,” wrote Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies, in May’s “Army Modernization Imperative” report.

Current funding to design and field new equipment is $7 billion below its historical average. “At the moment, the Army does not have any significant new platforms in the development pipeline. Additionally, notable failed acquisition programs such as the Future Combat System have hollowed out the Army’s System Development and Demonstration [Research and Development] accounts over the past six years,” Hunter wrote.

Some of those program failures include the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, the Ground Combat Vehicle, the Crusader gun, and the futuristic-looking but aborted (but Comanche helicopter.

The announcement comes amid Russian efforts to modernize its military, particularly in electronic warfare, efforts of which the Army is well aware though its 2016 Russia Land Warfare study, led by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, now the national security advisor.

“In a potential future conflict with Russia, the Army will not necessarily be able to rely on the joint force to provide certain capabilities that the Army is dependent on,” Hunter wrote.

He describes Russian battle concepts for defending its territory as “sophisticated, layered, redundant, multi-domain network that hinders the U.S. ability to project power in Europe and presents challenges to certain fundamental assumptions about the Army and its role in the joint force.”

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© 2017 By National Journal Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.