WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s Futures Command is supposed to be a center of future capabilities and new thinking, but for that to flourish, a certain level of experienced leadership must remain in place, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

Speaking to reporters after a speech at the annual Association of the United States Army conference, Shanahan said he believes Futures Command is in good hands under Gen. Mike Murray, describing the role of the Office of the Secretary of Defense as supportive.

“We’re not there to grade his paper. We’re there to identify where there are risks and opportunities, then help him to go address them,” Shanahan said.

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“People who are on the leadership team have to have experience. People like myself who’ve been involved with these kind of programs for 30 years, it’s not that we’re smarter than anyone else in the department,” Shanahan said. “I have tens of thousands of hours of experience. I’ve made every mistake that they’re going to make.”

Below Murray, however, the deputy pointed to a lack of programmatic expertise, as opposed to technical or acquisition expertise, as a potential area to target when looking to hire new talent.

“It’s not like we have the wrong folks. We need a few more of the right folks to complement,” he said.

Asked specifically about how the department was looking at Future Vertical Lift, one of the six key focuses for Futures Command, Shanahan touched again on the idea that “experience has a lot of value” for such complex programs, pointing to the kind of individuals who are buried inside the department but have worked on multiple programs in the past.

“Those are the people who have all the experience and the knowledge. And they really need to be sitting with these young colonels and brigadier generals and other acquisition people and helping them challenge their assumptions,” Shanahan said.

“As we build out Futures Command, that’s the type of work that we’re going to do because we’re not going to do miracles. We’re not going to put inventions on the critical path,” he added.

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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