WASHINGTON – As Congress passed a budget to boost defense spending, the pertinent question of modernization of the military rose again on Capitol Hill and through the think tanks the spin policy ideas.
Army officials told a Senate subcommittee that a combination of strategic, technological, institutional and budgetary trends have placed the Army’s competitive edge over its adversaries at risk.
Now the Army is at “an inflection” point where it can no longer afford to choose between near-term readiness and modernization but it at the tipping point where it needs the money to do both. — and needs that money now, four generals told the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee.
“The Army is a big organization and as the saying goes, ‘It takes a long time to turn a big ship,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, used a Navy metaphor to plead the case to the subcommittee.
The Army’s last broad-based modernization occurred in the 1980s. Its latest plan focuses on long-range precision small arms, next-generation vehicles, vertical lift and communications upgrades, as well as investing in soldier lethality by developing “Iron Man” exoskeletons, synthetic training and communications.
On the heels of the generals’ testimony, Brookings Institution examined the difficulty in leveraging the modernization, speed, and agility sought by the Army with commercial innovations.
“Following tens of billions of dollars in U.S. Army spending over the last decade to develop new weaponry, multiple failures have added up, some with little or nothing to show for the costs,” Brookings said.
In addition to looking to create new and more lethal capabilities to help the military win and come home safely, “the Army has been tasked to do more with less, making the ability to experiment with prototypes all the more critical. Army forces must also possess the capabilities—and be prepared to fight across multiple domains and through contested areas—to deter potential adversaries, and should deterrence fail, rapidly defeat them,” they said.
The Army has at least 16 programs it cannot start without the fiscal year 2018 funding that would help modernize the force and has had to slow production lines — particularly munition lines — to deal with the lack of funding measured against what it requested.
A lack of a true budget for nine years has crippled planning for all of the military; since the Army is the largest of the forces and asked to do the widest variations, the impact has hit hard.
For several years the Army has had to choose to prioritize funding to meet its force readiness requirements over funding the development of capabilities needed to build a future force. The generals told the panel that a combination of strategic, technological, institutional and budgetary trends have placed the Army’s competitive edge over its adversaries at risk.
On Friday, Congress approved a two-year budget deal that would set defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019. The Pentagon is to submit a flat, no growth above inflation, five-year defense plan to Congress next week.
Murray added the only new developmental program the Army has started in the last two years is the Mobile Protected Firepower capability — its quest for a new light tank for infantry brigade combat teams.
The Army’s modernization plan has six areas of focus: restoring the Army’s long-range precision fire capabilities, next-generation combat vehicles and improving communication networks. Also, the Army will focus on new aircraft designs, restoring air and missile defense systems and enhancing soldier lethality.
The Army is also developing a future and modernization command. The command should see initial operational capabilities by June or July, and be fully operational about a year later, Murray said.
The four generals said they believe the effort to modernize is on track but along with funding, a major cultural shift will also be necessary.
“We’re talking about a deep cultural change in the way a system has been operating for years,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “Cultures are the hardest thing to change.”
Murray agreed but said there is a sense of urgency to make that change. “It will happen,” he said.
The Army has called its plans to modernize “halt, fix, pivot” and follows four general paths to the future.
“For the past several years, the Army has been focused on the near-term demands of the protracted campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting our allies in Europe and Asia, and protecting the homeland,” the generals said. “The necessary emphasis on these missions, combined with constrained resources, slowed, deferred, and in some cases, halted the development of new platforms and capabilities.
They said because these operations required shifts in Army capabilities to meet rotational demands and because U.S. Forces were not contested in the air or maritime domains, the Army reduced or eliminated several capabilities that are vital to large-scale combat operations against highly capable adversaries. “Our potential adversaries have not been so constrained,” they said.