WASHINGTON —The Army has spent years taking gut punches to its budget and end-strength and subsequently its modernization efforts.
But while there’s still a lot of budgetary uncertainty, Congress wants the service to grow its force back and the president’s fiscal year 2018 budget request was substantially larger than previous years.
This has given the service an opportunity to resurrect its major modernization efforts that have been pushed aside in favor of maintaining current force readiness to respond to ever growing contingencies worldwide.
Back in May, the Army requested a “sizeable uptick” of $600 million from what was enacted in FY17, Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, the Army’s budget director, said at the time. The total modernization budget request in FY18 is $26.8 billion.
But having the money isn’t always enough to get modernization off the ground, so the Army is standing up a new modernization command to see its major efforts through to the final product.
The Army initiated “a realignment of modernization responsibilities under a new organization,” on Oct. 3, an Army spokesman told Defense News.
The new organization will implement Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) that align with the Army’s six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense and soldier lethality.
“This reorganization will establish unity of command and effort by consolidating the modernization process under one roof,” the spokesman said. “This realignment of responsibilities is not additional force structure, but rather a streamlining of work which will serve to overcome the bureaucratic inertia and stove-piping found in the Army’s current construct.”
It’s also a crucial time to ensure modernization is geared toward the Army’s new focus on its multi-domain battle construct, to prove the concept isn’t just a paper tiger by bending metal into real capability that aligns with the way the Army envisions operations now and in the future.
“We will do what it takes to build an agile adaptive Army of the future. We need to listen and learn first from the Army itself and from other services, from our interagency partners and also from private sectors and even our critics,” Maj. Gen. Bo Dyess, the acting director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), told Defense News in an interview shortly before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual show.
“Developing a lethal, professional, but technically competent force requires an openness to new ideas and new ways of doing things in an increasingly complex world,” he said.
The Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s modernization priorities align well with what Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), in which ARCIC is a part, has identified as capability gaps that need to be filled in order to fight effectively in a multi-domain battle environment, Dyess said.
And while the top six priorities are the focus, “it’s not the only thing that we’re doing,” he noted, “but those are the things that we thought would have the biggest bang for the buck and making up gaps that have developed based on assumptions that we’ve made.”
Here’s a look at efforts underway for each of the top six Army modernization priorities:
Long-range precision fires
LRPF is being developed to replace the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) capability with a maximum range greater than 400 kilometers. The Army also wants a launch pod missile container that holds a minimum of one missile and is compatible with existing launchers platforms such as the Multiple Launch Rocket System and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
Having long-range fire power is crucial to multi-domain battle because it’s a means to deliver terrain-shaping capabilities from the ground,” Dyess said. Terrain-shaping capabilities “are the ones that are able to deny the enemy the ability to maneuver on certain portions on the ground and turn them into areas which are more favorable for U.S. and coalition forces to engage,” he added.
Dyess noted that Adm. Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command commander, said at a panel at AUSA a year ago, that he would like to have an LRPF capability from the Army that’s able to be used in the maritime domain as well.
“So that’s where the cross-domain aspect comes in, he said, “to have a ground formation being able to support a combatant commander in multiple domains.”
Despite LRPF being a top priority for the Army, it has pushed the development plan for LRPF out by a year.
The Army had planned to enter the technology and risk reduction phase of the program in the second quarter of 2016 but in the FY18 budget request the milestone was pushed back a year.
Two companies -- Raytheon and Lockheed Martin — are competing for an engineering and manufacturing development contract — with an anticipated award now expected in the second quarter of 2021.
When asked if it was possible to speed up the LRPF development schedule, Dyess said, “I’ll just say that it’s at the top of our modernization priorities list.”
Next-generation combat vehicle
The Army has dismal track record when it comes procuring brand new vehicles. The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army’s Humvee replacement is the recent exception.
The service is still feeling the sting from the failure of its Future Combat System and the Ground Combat Vehicle program, but Army officials have stressed over the past year that it’s imperative it successfully build a new next-generation combat vehicle to maintain future overmatch.
The Army’s efforts to prototype capabilities for an NGCV are taking shape as a collaborative endeavor between industry and the service. The Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center just awarded an industry team to build two prototypes by Sept. 30, 2022.
The TARDEC NGCV concept will feature a 50mm cannon — pushing well beyond the upgunned Stryker Dragoon with its 30mm cannon headed to Europe early next year — and will be designed to operate with a two person crew and six soldiers with a split squad or fire team in the back.
The NGCV is “a key part of the Army to be able to maneuver on a future battlefield,” Dyess said, “and the development of that next-generation combat vehicle that would seek to improve our capability of our maneuver formation against a peer adversary in the areas of lethality, mobility and transportability and also reducing logistical demands.”
Future vertical lift
The Army is very close to seeing two demonstrator aircraft fly as part of its Joint Multi-Role (JMR) Demonstrator program program. The demonstration will help the Army understand what is in the realm of the possible and will help it shape requirements when it starts the FVL program of record officially in 2019.
Bell Helicopter’s V-280 Valor tiltrotor helicopter will begin flying very shortly and was going through a series of restrained ground runs beginning last month with the expectation it will start hitting the skies later this year.
The Sikorsky-Boeing offering — its SB-1 Defiant coaxial helicopter — is behind schedule and won’t begin flying until late next spring or early summer due to some rotor blade manufacturing challenges that have since been resolved.
The Army also doesn’t have a good track record in procuring new helicopters in recent years failing several times to procure a new armed reconnaissance helicopter, instead choosing to use the AH-64 Apache helicopter teamed with Shadow unmanned aircraft systems to fill the armed scout role after the service retired its OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopters.
But the process it’s taking to get to an FVL program of record using prototyping seems to be catching on elsewhere, such as in the NGCV program and even its developmental effort to get a future runway independent UAS.
Where the network is headed is a bit more hazy. Army officials were called to testify before the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee in late September to discuss its strategy to modernize the network.
And those officials were met with unhappy lawmakers who said they could not support plans to shift a half-billion dollars to revamp the ailing network without a detailed explanation from the Army on what is next for the network.
After months of getting slammed by lawmakers, like Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., for investing roughly $6 billion in the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical system — the service’s tactical network backbone that was deemed no longer suitable to perform well against emerging threats like electronic attack — the Army halted the program.
But didn’t come up with much of a strategy to replace WIN-T or how it was going to shape the network overall.
All that is really known is the Army plans to invest a great deal of reprogrammed dollars — freed up by the halting of WIN-T and a few other programs — to modernize the network in a more rapid and agile way.
The Army has dragged its heels on modernizing its air-and-missile defense capabilities in a few areas, most notably choosing to incrementally upgrade its aging Patriot air-and-missile defense system rather than rapidly moving forward on its Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense (IAMD) program.
But the Army announced this year that intends to hold a competition to replace its Patriot radar and plans to begin analysis of materiel solutions in fiscal year 2018.
The service has spent years grappling with when and how it will replace its current Raytheon-manufactured Patriot system first fielded in 1982. At one point, the U.S. Army planned to procure Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air Defense System as the replacement, but it canceled its plans to acquire the system, opting instead to procure key components of a new Integrated Air and Missile Defense System, or IAMD, separately.
Northrop Grumman is developing the IAMD’s Integrated Battle Command System, the command and control architecture for the system, but its initial fielding is delayed by four years.
Key to the future system is to have a 360-degree threat detection capability achieved through a new radar. The current radar has blind spots.
While medium-range AMD is still a focus, the Army is also turning its attention to filling an urgent capability gap in the European theater — the ability to defend against air threats at short range.
The Army hosted a demonstration to rapidly find Short-Range Air Defense solutions to fill the gap last month and continues to assess options for interim solutions and down the road.
The Army is focused on finding lighter, safer but more lethal solutions for the soldier whether that comes in the form of a new rifle, ammunition, grenades or other weapon systems.
“We have got some thoughts about the next-generation of squad weapon,” Dyess said.
The focus now for small arms is on the existing program for the 7.62mm Interim Capability Squad Designated Marksman rifle and evaluations are being conducted for an intermediate caliber round and rifle combination between 5.56mm and 7.62mm in order to develop a new infantry rifle to replace the M4 carbine.
But also robotics and autonomous systems can enhance soldier lethality and the Army is studying how they aid the warfighter whether that is to lighten the load or to send systems, rather than soldiers, into harm’s way, providing more stand-off from danger.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.