HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The Army Futures Command (AFC) will take charge of the Army’s processes for conjuring up materiel designs for modernized capability going forward, which means taking some elements from some of the major commands and moving them over to the new organization, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an exclusive interview just ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium.
The Futures Command is being established to take on the Army’s top modernization priorities, six to be exact: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the Network, Air-and-Missile Defense and Soldier Lethality.
The new command, which will reach an initial operational capability in the June timeframe, will also be based in a city and have a four-star commander, McCarthy said. When the command stands up at that time, its location and leader will be announced, he added.
The Army is getting very close to whittling down the cities under consideration from 30 to just 10, and will make a decision in just a few short months where Futures Command will be housed, he said.
Army leaders are also very close to choosing Futures Command’s very first commander. The Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville “are working real hard with the senior leadership and they have a slate down to a couple of names,” McCarthy said, adding he expected a selection “in the very, very near future.”
The three major components that will make up AFC are “combat development, combat capability and combat systems,” McCarthy said.
The combat development aspect tackles future concepts based on threat analyses and will examine how technology is changing the battlefield, he said.
The capability component takes elements of Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) and the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). It will look at requirements definition and interpretation as well as science and technology investments, prototyping and experimentation, McCarthy said.
“So elements of ARCIC would re-patch or re-flag themselves and work for the Futures Command,” he said, “and RDECOM with the S&T, the labs, would be filled into this subelement or subcommand of Army Futures Command.”
Specifically, the requirements piece of ARCIC would be moved under Futures Command, McCarthy said.
The combat systems component formally connects program managers to the command through the Cross-Functional Teams (CFT) that are each assigned to address a modernization priority, according to McCarthy.
Program managers will remain “hard-lined” to the Army’s acquisition executive, McCarthy said, “but they are assigned with a formal relationship to those CFT directors.”
He added, “this formal assignment would be new and it puts forward better teamwork, collaboration and accountability in the process.”
In choosing a location, McCarthy said there were two critical factors that motivated the Army to want to nest AFC in a city: business and academia. “We have to get more agile in how we work with both of those key constituencies or communities,” he said. “The entire Department of Defense really divested a lot of its systems engineering talent back in the 1990s and it’s been a challenge for the department for weapon systems development because of not having that organic capability inside the department.”
Among some criteria the Army is using to make a decision, McCarthy said, are the “density of [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] and [Research & Development] talent, density of innovation in business and how those types of companies line up against our priorities, civic support, quality of life as well as productivity metrics.”
For instance, a lot of cities have traffic problems. “We don’t want people in the car all day,” he said.
The Army has worked with an outside organization that helps major corporations develop quantifiable formulas to assess cities to find the type of location that supports the command’s needs, McCarthy said.
The service has narrowed a pool of roughly 150 cities down to 30 and is very close to choosing the final 10. Letters will be sent to the final 10 cities, which will be required to fill out questionnaires. The Army will tap into gubernatorial input, as well as congressional delegations from those locations, according to McCarthy.
Over the next couple of months, the pool will shrink down to four finalists and McCarthy and McConville will each personally recon those four cities in order to make a final recommendation to the Army secretary and chief of staff.
The Army is very close to making a decision from a short list on who the first commander of AFC will be, but to get to that list, McCarthy said they looked at striking a balance with candidates that have both operational experiences to understand how formations fight and “a really astute understanding of the doctrinal way the Army does business” and also unique experiences on the Army staff, an understanding of Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The ideal commander should also have a level of understanding in business and the industry.
“You can really narrow that list pretty quickly because that’s an all around athlete,” McCarthy said.
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.