WASHINGTON — The Army will see a significant shift in funding from its current fleet to new and modern capability designed to fight in multidomain operations in fiscal 2023, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an Oct. 8 interview.
The service has conducted several rounds of “night court” reviews already, a deep dive across the Army’s portfolios to determine whether money is in the right place to ensure modernization priorities are getting what they need to progress.
In FY18 and FY19, the Army focused on the science and technology portfolio, but in FY20 ramped up the process finding north of $25 billion to apply to modernization priorities across the next five years.
The FY21 and FY22 process was similar and still resulted in a substantial amount of funding that was redirected, according to McCarthy.
“We’re basically lining ourselves up for the ’23 program where you will see a much more aggressive effort like you saw in FY20,” McCarthy said. “The choices are going to get bigger and tougher, but that’s necessary” as modernized programs begin to be fielded, he said. “That will force us to make harder calls with legacy systems that will have to be forced to end their service life.”
The FY22 night court review has wrapped up, and the number of canceled, reduced or delayed programs is less than in previous years.
The Army still had to make some hard decisions, Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, the Army G-8, told Defense News in a separate Oct. 8 interview, but there were fewer. “It did still result in dozens of reductions and eliminations, but smaller, much smaller than in the past.”
“I feel better now than I did on the front end of this thing a year ago,” Pasquarette said, “and how we were going to make ends meet.”
Pasquarette, who manages the night court process, said a year ago that after two deep dives he was concerned there wouldn’t be enough low-hanging fruit to move over to fund modernization at the levels needed in the coming years.
But since the Army has already found $37 billion total from the previous night courts and no major changes have been made to the strategy or what is being prioritized, less needs to move around because everything is in the right place, according to Pasquarette.
Yet in FY23 some big programs will begin to go out to units such as the Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense System (M-SHORAD), next-generation squad weapons, enhanced night-vision goggles, the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) systems, the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) and ground-launched hypersonic weapons.
“So in our fires community, massive changeover,” McCarthy said, “so units will be taking on new weapon systems, changing their task organizations, so you have to start divesting legacy weapon systems at a much greater rate of speed. … Then as you get towards the back end of the [five-year defense plan] FYDP, in ’25 and ’26, here come the helicopters.”
In FY23, McCarthy said, the Army will also make trades in order to invest in logistics to accommodate new weapons. Questions center on determining whether there are appropriate hangars, maintenance facilities and ranges that accommodate greater lethality and range for things like the Long-Range Precision Fires capabilities.
More difficult decisions could be around the corner should the defense budget face cuts in the future. Some are projecting numbers as high as a 20 percent cut in military spending if there is a change in the administration.
“If we see a reduced top line, I do wonder what would be the impact to some of the things that we put in place,” Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, the Army’s comptroller, told Defense News earlier this month. “How will things like our modernization plan become pressurized? And so definitely a reduced top line will pressurize some of the programs and we’ll be making some tough decisions.”
Should the Army face cuts, McCarthy said, “we’ll have a hard look at our readiness portfolio.”
The Army has “been very blessed” to have 27 or 28 brigades at the highest levels of readiness, he added. “So you look at your readiness portfolio and are there ways to do it more efficiently? Do you need that many ready at any given point in time? Can you make an adjustment to that large bucket of funding in the readiness portfolio?” McCarthy asked.
On the modernization side, the Army will have to continue to divest legacy platforms, according to McCarthy. “But you also need to take a very hard look” at priority programs to ensure they are correctly lined up, he said.
As for quality of life, the Army “will not take much risk there,” McCarthy said. “We’re very concerned that we spent over a decade at deficit spending on that side and we’ve made some pretty substantial moves. We’re going to make some more here in the next week or two that you’ll hear about ways that we’re working to improve upon that.”
The Army will do what it can to manage the balance sheet “as efficiently as possible,” McCarthy said. “If the cuts come, they will come. You have to face that down. The fiscal posture of the country has been challenged with the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re going to do the best we can with the budgets we are granted.”
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.