WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has long pinpointed 2030 as a key year to achieve its modernization goals, but the service’s secretary is already looking to 2040.
Christine Wormuth told Defense News she has tasked the Army’s modernization offices, and particularly Army Futures Command, with examining what the service will need in 2040 and then putting a foundation in place.
Thus far, she sees 2040 as an “extension” of the branch’s 2030 goals.
“What I mean by that is, we’ve got robotic combat vehicles now, autonomy is already a part of what we’re looking at, but really scaling up autonomy, scaling up artificial intelligence to enable human decision-making to be in a much faster loop,” she said. “There will be some new capabilities and new pieces of operational concepts.”
Wormuth recently attended a series of war games at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that brought together elements from across the service, including Army Futures Command’s Futures and Concepts Center as well as Training and Doctrine Command’s Combined Arms Center.
The war games took into account efforts currently under development — including those on weapons systems, concepts and the new multidomain operations doctrine — in order to determine “the next set of concepts” and the requirements that will drive them, Wormuth explained.
“I can’t think of an area that we’re not doing anything in right now,” she said. “We’ve got work underway looking at networks, at AI, at autonomy, at … biotechnology. Those are the things that I think we want to have the labs focused on, so I don’t think there’s a wholly uncovered area at this time.”
The road to 2030
Even as Wormuth looks to 2040, there’s plenty to be accomplished to meet the Army’s 2030 goals.
Four years ago, the service established Army Futures Command to help it more quickly modernize its force based on six priority areas considered key to succeeding in a potential conflict with advanced adversaries, like Russia and China: long-range precision fires; a next-generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift; the network; air and missile defense; and soldier lethality.
The Army is on track to field or hand prototypes to units for 24 systems by the end of fiscal 2023, including hypersonic weapons, the Precision Strike Missile, a ship-killing midrange missile and an extended-range cannon.
“Progress generally is going very well given that we have 24 systems, in one year, that we’re either trying to start fielding or we’re trying to get prototypes in the hands of soldiers,” Wormuth said. “We may hit some bumps in the road along the way. I think that’s to be expected.”
In a September speech at the Army’s Maneuver Warfighter Conference on Fort Benning, Georgia, Wormuth laid out six goals for the Army of 2030 to effectively conduct multidomain operations on the battlefield.
“To be able to win the fires fight; to be able to take dispersed forces and have them converge together to engage the enemy; to be able to see farther, more persistently, longer than our adversaries; to be able to protect ourselves; to be able to share data and communicate, not just with each other but with the other services and our allies; and then to sustain that whole joint force, we’re going to need systems, capabilities,” Wormuth said. “That is really where you get into a lot of the programs that we always talk about in our six modernization portfolios.”
The Army also needs the right formations and force structure, she told Defense News.
“The [brigade combat team] is sort of the unit of action for 20 years; we don’t think that’s appropriate for the future battlefield,” she said. “So we’re really looking at the division as the unit of action.”
“A lot of what we’re doing with the Army of 2030 is looking at what capabilities need to be at which echelon,” she added.
Additionally, the Army is building its five multidomain task forces to operate across all domains, including space and cyberspace. The service has already activated three: two in the Pacific and one in Europe. While it will establish two more, Wormuth said, the Army is still deciding where those units will go.
The service has moved quickly to develop new capabilities, but Army Futures Command, its lead modernization organization, went without a confirmed commander for 10 months.
During an Oct. 4 ceremony at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, Gen. James Rainey took over from acting commander Lt. Gen. James Richardson, who is retiring.
Rainey was involved in establishing the command five years ago, and he has worked with the organization to develop the multidomain operations doctrine while leading the Combined Arms Center.
“We will absolutely deliver the Army of 2030,” Rainey said in a speech at the change-of-command ceremony, “while we’re designing the Army of 2040.”
In an interview after the ceremony, Wormuth told Defense News the top priority for Rainey is to deliver the Army of 2030, but the next one is for his command “to look ahead, look past the Army of 2030 to what are the new kinds of operational challenges that we’re going to be facing and what kinds of concepts would flow from that, and what kinds of requirements would flow from that.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.