Army picks Austin, Texas, as its gateway to the 21st century

Army picks Austin, Texas, as its gateway to the 21st century

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From left,  Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy, Army Secretary Mark Esper, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville announce Austin as the location for the Army Futures Command (Dod screengrab)

WASHINGTON — The Army said Friday that it was finally moving into the 21st century, choosing Austin, Texas, to be the home of a highly touted, forward-looking Future Combat Systems command.

“We are resetting the institution…in order to set the Army up for future combat,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, said during a press conference. With the new command, he said the Army is “looking into the deep future.”

Said Gen. James McConville, vice chief of staff to the Army, said the new command is “how to get to the future.”

The last major reorganization within the Army was in 1973.

The new command is designed to streamline efficiency by creating its own bureaucracy. As outlined it will shuffle personnel from disparate entities to a more centralized operation; it is projected to be up and running in about a year.

“Meeting the requirements of the Army Futures Command means moving beyond the walls of traditional posts and forts,” Ryan McCarthy, undersecretary of the Army, told Pentagon reporters Friday. “The Army is an industrial-age institution that is transitioning to the information age, we want to move at the speed of innovation.”

Significantly, the new command’s intended marriage with the civilian world of academic and private research will be a critical metric of its long-term success. Some private innovating entities — such as Google — have started to refuse to work with the military on contracts or research that could do harm.

Austin was chosen because it scored the highest in the selection criteria, McCarthy said. Austin has a favorable business, academic and technology climate that is the framework sought by the Army as well as a low cost of living outside the city limits, he said.

Texas does not have a state income tax, although the state and its various locales have a plethora of higher-than-usual sales taxes.

McCarthy said a “beachhead team” of about half a dozen personnel — the first of about 500 — were to be in Austin Friday to begin formal operations and review the incentives offered by the city. He declined to detail those incentives.

The other finalists were Boston, Raleigh, N.C., Minneapolis, Minn., and Philadelphia.

“I think we all recognize that Russia and China are improving their military capabilities, and that we have been involved in a war with terrorists, guerrillas and insurgents for 15, 16, 17 years,” Milley said. “With respect to the Army, that has meant that we have set aside major modernization programs in order to fight the current fight.”

“As those fights have wound down, we made a conscious decision two-and-a-half, three years ago now to maintain readiness for our current fight, which we will maintain, but to also shift gears and reinvigorate our modernization effort,” he said.

As outlined Friday, the Futures Command will consolidate entities that now look at future opportunities, threats and missions the Army believes it will see. It then is to brainstorm what technology would be needed to match those needs, what programs would receive priority funding and then ensuring focused progress through subordinate commands.

It is also hoped the new command will avoid what has been a history of development pitfalls of proposed new systems, an issue bellied by reports on how the Army has spent almost $35 billion since 1995 on programs that were jettisoned early with little to nothing to show for them.

Army Secretary Mark Esper said Futures Command will help meet the service’s often-articulated modernization priorities of long-range precision firepower, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the communications network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.

“We do not have time to build this ecosystem; it had to be ready immediately,” McCarthy told Pentagon reporters.

The Futures Command commandant has been reported to be Lt. Gen. John Murray, the current Army G−8, which, according to the Army webpage, “works to plan, develop, and resource programs supporting Soldiers by balancing Current Force needs.” He would need a fourth star to take command, according to Army doctrine.

Milley said a commander has been selected but the Army is waiting for the Senate to confirm before announcing the choice.

As an example of what can happen when civilian innovation aligns with military needs, McCarthy cited the creation of the Jeep — considered one of the premier military breakthroughs in Army history. The Jeep was created in 1940 in 49 days by Bantam Car Company in Butler, Penn.

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