WASHINGTON — If the U.S. Army is to meet the pacing challenge of China, it can “no longer defer the big decisions about how to forge the Army we need in the future,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said Oct. 11 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

“Change is hard when there’s uncertainty about what the future will bring, and there are no easy changes to make,” she said. “I feel this pressure myself.”

The Army needs to start thinking harder about how to deter China and Russia and, if necessary, fight high-end adversaries using capabilities the service already has, Wormuth said.

“It means networking and adapting our existing capabilities in innovative ways even as we invest in news systems,” she said. “It means upgraded operational concepts drawn from rigorous analysis, study and exercises.”

The Army should also ask difficult questions to better understand potential adversaries, For example, she said: “How would our foes be likely to fight? With what capabilities? For what reasons? What does that mean for the future of land power? What are the implications for the Army of geography in Europe and the Indo-Pacific? And how can the Army best contribute to the joint war fight?”

“I am not convinced that we have fully thought our way through all the challenges we may face on the future high-end battlefield if deterrence fails,” she added. “We need to recognize that bureaucratic infighting, attachment to the way we’ve always done it and reflexive skepticism of new ideas can be powerful roadblocks to progress.”

“Hard choices” are coming for the Army, and to inform those decisions, Wormuth said, the Army is conducting analysis “on key aspects of the Army, our core structure, our readiness, our modernization programs and our infrastructure so that we can focus our finite resources on transforming to meet future challenges.”

When asked during an Oct.11 news conference at AUSA whether part of the considerations on the table would be reducing the Army’s end strength, Wormuth replied: “I think it’s fair to say we are looking at everything, but it is essential that we transform for the future. And the modernization program that we’ve embarked on is a critical piece of that transformation. … We will certainly be looking to protect that because it’s so core to what we’re doing.”

The Army needs to wait to see how the budget picture shakes out, as Congress has yet to pass a fiscal 2022 budget, Wormuth added. “Every year we sort of have another chance to look at these kinds of issues.”

Included in the analysis of the modernization campaign, she said, will be the possibility of adjusting schedules for different programs that give the Army more flexibility.

Wormuth said part of the decisions will include accepting “some risk now to avoid greater risk in the future.”

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.

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