FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The U.S. Army will likely rely heavily on experimenting with concepts in order to better define future weapons systems requirements for a force that will be expected to operate across multiple domains against peer adversaries.
And Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, the director of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, told Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy during a trip to the Kansas installation last week that the service is “way under-sourced” when it comes conceptual experimentation.
Part of the CAC’s role is to war-game concepts to help Training and Doctrine Command shape and write requirements that will lead to materiel solutions. The Mission Command Battle Lab within the CAC is designed to experiment with emerging concepts and technologies to mitigate risk to the force.
Lundy stressed it is important to wear concepts out to better define requirements so that program managers can build better solutions. “I need battle labs to get good requirements,” he said.
Without the experimentation process, requirements can spiral out of control or be unrealistic.
For example, Lundy said the process allowed the Army to realize it didn’t need a future helicopter to go 300 knots. By extensively experimenting with a variety of concepts based on anticipated operations and anticipated capabilities of adversaries, the service realized it only needed something that could fly at 220 knots.
If the Army hadn’t done that experimentation, it could have potentially proceeded down a road to develop a faster helicopter, which could have required technology that doesn’t exist, is too costly or is far from ready for prime time — elements that contribute to program delays, cost overruns or cancellations.
As the Army looks to prioritize six major modernization efforts in the near term, concept experimentation will be a vital part of the process at the outset and down the road.
The six modernization priorities are Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
The Army is standing up what it’s calling the Futures Command to move those modernization efforts through the acquisition process, from beginning to end, to address the reality that the service will be expected to operate in contested environments, something to which the force is not accustomed, having spent 15 years in counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East.
The CAC will also be vital in ensuring efforts across the board align with the Army’s Multi-Domain Battle concept now driving the service’s doctrine, technology development and acquisition priorities, training, logistics, and sustainment.
McCarthy told Defense News on the trip to Fort Leavenworth that there has been an increase in fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 funding for experimentation when it comes to prototyping — a materiel standpoint. But he said he “absolutely” planned to go back and look at what is needed for experimenting specifically with concepts after meeting with Lundy.
The Army will consider resourcing conceptual analysis and experimentation as part of the FY20 five-year funding plan now being created, McCarthy said. The FY19 five-year plan was released earlier this month.
McCarthy added it might be necessary to work with Congress to reprogram dollars to ensure what is needed is synchronized across the five-year period.
Funding the experimentation is important, he said, “because if you get the concept right, you can work out the technological trade-offs as you go downstream in weapons development.”
McCarthy noted that the discussion with Lundy about the need for more resources to conduct robust conceptual experimentation was “one of the most profound things” they talked about on the trip and was something he intended to “work on personally.”
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.