WASHINGTON — As part of an effort to face down the issues outlined in a complex problem statement, the Department of Defense has laid out three lines of effort — one of which the Army has already moved out on in a big way.
At the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition Monday, Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy revealed that the Army has plans for a “modernization command,” to stand up by summer of 2018.
Speaking during a press conference at the exposition, alongside Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, McCarthy said that existing Army systems are becoming outdated as compared to what adversaries might produce, and also that the processes the Army now uses to field potential new systems are themselves outdated and slow by comparison to how adversaries operate.
McCarthy pointed to systems like the Abrams tank, the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, and the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as examples of systems that were developed long ago — in the early 1970s — and which have since been incrementally upgraded to keep pace with competitors.
But that incremental upgrade cycle, he said, is no longer enough.
“There is a limit to the incremental improvements that can be made before they no longer offer the degree of overmatch the Army requires,” McCarthy said.
While modernizing those platforms “has yielded benefits,” he said, “we’re squarely on the curve of diminishing returns.”
Peer competitors, he said, are developing new systems today — and quickly.
“Our peer competitors have continued to invest in technologies that counter what have traditionally been the strengths of the American military, and they are doing it faster than us,” he said. “The U.S. Army has to adapt.”
The U.S. Army, McCarthy said, is now at an “inflection point,” when it comes to modernizing its force. “To prevail in the future, we now must reform how we modernize the Army. The roles, responsibilities, structures, and organizations we have to address this challenge are disparate and in many respects, born of a bygone era.”
McCarthy said to streamline the modernization process, he plans for the Army to have a modernization command. He said he has approved a 120-day task force, which starts this week, and which will be led by Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon, “to frame and present decisions about the ultimate form and function of the new command.”
Details about how the command will work, he said, are still to be decided. But he said the scope of the command “will extend from idea to delivery” of the gear and tools the Army will ultimately need to modernize.
Earlier at the exposition’s opening ceremony, Secretary of Defense James Mattis touched on what it is the Department of Defense is facing today — including terrorism in the Middle East, provocations from North Korea in the Pacific, and changing borders in Europe.
“In Europe, for the first time since World War II, we’ve seen national borders change by the force of arms, as one country proved willing to ignore international law to exercise a veto authority over its neighbor’s rights to make decisions in the economic, diplomatic and security domains,” Mattis said.
To face that security environment, Mattis said, “we must have militaries fit for their purpose, fit for their time, in these days of emerging challenges … your Department of Defense is adapting.”
Mattis laid out a complex “problem statement” that outlines how DOD sees the challenges it is facing.
“How do we maintain a safe and effective nuclear deterrent, so these weapons are never used, and our non-proliferation efforts can be recharged,” Mattis asked. “Second, how to maintain a decisive conventional force at the same time as that nuclear deterrent, one that will include space and cyberspace capability to deter war or end it decisively if conflict occurs. And third, we must at the same time maintain an irregular capability so we can fight across the spectrum of conflict.”
The secretary spelled out three lines of effort the Department of Defense is pursuing now as answers to that problem statement.
First, he said, “Everything we … do must contribute to the increased lethality of our military. We must never lose sight of the fact that we have no God-given right to victory on the battlefield.”
He said McCarthy and Milley are now examining “every personnel policy, our training times, our organization and more, to ensure they contribute and make us the most lethal joint force in the world.”
Second, Mattis said, the Department of Defense is strengthening existing alliances with partner nations and allies, while at the same time working to build new partnerships.
And finally, Mattis said, the Department is reworking business practices “to gain full benefit from every dollar spent on defense.”
The Army’s effort to build a modernization command supports two of those three lines of effort, and Milley said that command will work to advance the Army’s six modernization priorities, to include long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality.
“What do you want the Army to do? You want them to win,” Milley said. “So in combat operations, you win on the offense.”
That means, Milley said, mastering the fundamentals of “shoot, move, communicate, protect and sustain.”
All the Army’s modernization priorities are in line with those fundamentals — fundamentals necessary to win wars, he said.
Long-range fires, for instance, support the fundamental of shoot — “we assess there is a gap, or at least a closing of the capability overmatch we’ve had in long-range fires,” he said.
A next-generation combat vehicle and future vertical lift platforms give Soldiers the ability to move, he said, and the Army’s rotary-wing, wheeled and tracked vehicle fleets are at end of what can be done with product improvements. “That’s why you see those in the top three.”
The mobile and expeditionary Army network supports the communication fundamental, he said, and ballistic missile defense is a priority for protecting ground forces.
“We have to create a layered defense around our combat formations if we are expected to fight combined arms maneuver against a near-peer competitor in a dynamic environment,” he said.
Finally, he said, “We want to go to great lengths to increase the lethality of our Soldier and their systems. Everything from small arms to body armor, you name it. Everything about the Soldier, we want to increase the lethality, to include their training, with things like synthetic training environments so they get multiple repetitions and they become much better at their skills.”
The modernization command, Milley said, will deliver those priorities.