WASHINGTON -- There's no doubt in the Army's Capability Integration Center chief's mind that the Army must hone its close-combat skills, even as some have suggested America will fight future wars from a safe distance using mostly long-range strike weapons.

"Where the fight is fairest and where we take the most casualties and where American servicemen and women are at greatest risk," Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said, "it's in close combat."

And, according to the three-star, it's an "area that I'm really most concerned about because we've been on this modernization pause for a while."

The Army has taken a 74 percent cut in its budget for modernization over the last decade. There's now a "bow wave" of Army modernization to deal with, McMaster said, during a media roundtable via teleconference Tuesday, and "our instinct will be to spread less and less money over the same amount of programs."

But the Army has to prioritize its modernization in order to keep pace with threats and technology. The Army's Training and Doctrine Command over the past year has presented its "Big 8" initiatives to stay ahead of global threats and maintain overmatch against present and future adversaries. However, TRADOC has refined this to the "Big 6+1" set of initiatives, with "+1" referring to "soldier/team performance and overmatch" as the capability that cuts across all the other capabilities listed.

McMaster believes Army modernization is behind in areas like command and control and mission command capabilities as well as in armored combat vehicles. He’s regularly advocated for a quicker effort to replace aging, but still capable, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams Tanks.

But for McMaster, all of this should be tied directly to what soldiers need to be effective in a fight even at the lowest echelons.

While equipping the soldier doesn’t give Congress and the American public a sexy vehicle, aircraft or weapon to admire, McMaster said modernization dollars need to be focused to the soldier at the squad level.

His reasoning is that the Army will operate in what it calls "Anti-Access Area Denial" – or A2/AD – environments and, in the future, all domains in which the US military fights will be contested.

The Army, he said, is focused on establishing the squad-level unit as a foundation of the "decisive force," which means "the ability to give our infantry and small units the mobility, protection and lethality they need."

That could mean equipping the Army with the revolutionary XM25 precision-guided grenade launcher and other advanced weapons like the Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS), McMaster said. But it could also mean giving soldiers the ability to target, locate and get fires into the fight quickly, he added.

"Our enemies are moving into complex terrain and they are evading our long-range detection capabilities," McMaster said. "The combination of those two things, the difficulty or targeting the enemy with long-range precision fires and the enemy’s elusiveness means we are going to fight in close combat."

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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