WASHINGTON — The Army has been holding what has been called “night court,” full of “deep dives” to assess how essential existing programs are to the service’s radical modernization goals since the earlier part of this year. And according to the service’s secretary, it has found roughly $25 billion through the process to apply to its priorities.
Secretary Mark Esper, in a press briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, would not speak to the details of what programs will bite the dust to cover the cost of emerging modernization efforts because they are evident in the service’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget, which has yet to clear the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
But he did say “that dollar figure is a low-end number over the [Future Years Defense Program] FYDP,” adding: “Most of the savings are principally found in the [equipping] peg.”
Esper, as well as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other top leadership, spent roughly 40 to 60 hours reviewing programs within the equipping peg since this spring as a part of a new effort to comb through every program and weigh them against modernization priorities.
The thinking goes that if programs or activities didn’t fit in the top six modernization priorities the Army laid out a year ago, then the programs could go, freeing up dollars for the priorities.
The Army announced last year at AUSA that it planned to stand up Army Futures Command, a new four-star organization tasked to push forward efforts that will modernize the Army by 2028. There are six modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality.
The Army went “program by program, activity by activity to look at each one and assess it and ask ourselves is this more important than a Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, is this more important than a squad automatic weapon, is this more important than Long-Range Precision Fires,” Esper said.
“We had to make those trade-offs, and it resulted in, again, reductions and cancellations and consolidations, so that is our intent as we continue to go through the other pegs,” Esper said.
“We’re trying to be as judicious as we can with every dollar that has been disposed by Congress,” Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an interview ahead of AUSA. “This is a way for us to put the highest level of rigor and prioritization that you could give for the department against our priorities.”
The Army needs to be prepared for potential contraction of the Budget Control Act, McCarthy noted. “We will be ready for that no matter what.”
Starting this month, the Army will take on manning and training programs in the same way.
Esper said the Army is “playing a little bit of catch up” to get after reviewing the manning and training pegs, but said the service is going to institutionalize the process.
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.