Last month, in an appearance before the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley provided a notably upbeat assessment of the state of his service.
“The Army is on the mend. I can report out to you today, after two and a half years as the chief of staff of the Army, we are in significantly better shape than we were just a short time ago. And that is through the generosity of this Congress and the American people,” he said.
Clearly, some of the credit for the Army’s improved state of affairs is a result of the recently passed two-year budget, which provided a much-needed increase in resources. The Army has been able to grow its end strength, purchase needed munitions and spare parts, increase training activities, and recapitalize older and damaged equipment. More resources have also enabled the Army force to expand its presence in Europe, increase, albeit modestly, procurement of upgraded Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Strykers, and acquire the new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
But much of the credit goes to the Army chief of staff himself. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a blog for the National Interest titled “Perhaps the Most Remarkable CSA in More than Half a Century.” It was Gen. Milley who made modernization the measure of success for his tenure as the Army chief of staff. This change in strategic direction came just in time, ahead of the reappearance of great power competition as the greatest threat to this nation’s security.
Gen. Milley is not alone in his quest. In fact, it is a troika consisting of Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarty and the chief that is fashioning a new Army in record time and doing so while simultaneously transforming the Army’s acquisition system. This is the proverbial case of changing the car’s tires while speeding down the road.
The early signs are that the Army modernization is on the mend and the acquisition system is being changed. An important example of these improvements is the Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office. Established by the secretary and the chief in August 2016, the RCO is tasked to expedite critical capabilities to the field to meet combatant commanders’ needs using alternative contracting mechanisms to deliver technologies in real time to the war fighter.
One of the RCO’s initial projects was to bring the Army back into the game with respect to electronic warfare. In 12 months, the RCO developed an initial integrated mounted and dismounted EW sensor capability that has been deployed with U.S. forces in Europe. A second phase of the project is underway that will add aerial sensors, additional ground-unit sets and improve functionality.
Another program that is proceeding rapidly is a vehicle-mounted, jam-resistant positioning, navigation and timing capability for GPS-challenged environments. Prospective solutions are currently undergoing testing.
The chief has directed the RCO to address several new areas. The RCO is working on a long-range cannon concept that may be able to double the range of 155mm howitzers, as well as optical augmentation technology to detect an adversary’s anti-tank guided missile day/night sights and loitering munitions that can strike air-defense and artillery emplacements.
The Army has been moving rapidly to address many of its critical capability gaps. To meet the challenge posed by hostile aircraft and drones, the Army intends to deploy the first battery of the Maneuver Short Range Air Defense launcher on a Stryker armored vehicle by 2020, five years ahead of schedule. Additional sensors and weapons, including a tactical laser, could be integrated into the new turret by the early 2020s.
Tank-automotive and Armaments Command did a rapid assessment of active protection systems. The current plan is to equip at least four brigades of Abrams tanks with the Israeli Trophy system while testing continues on a number of solutions for other armored fighting vehicles.
The Army also has used other rapid procurement organizations within the Pentagon. One of these is the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, created in 2016 to push rapid innovation based on leveraging commercial companies. Recently, DIUx led a prototype contract involving upgrades for Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The first production items from it will soon be delivered to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
There are other examples of advances in cyberwarfare, soldier systems, networking and long-range precision fires. The central point is that Gen. Milley’s vision of the Army’s future is turning out to be right.
Daniel Gouré is a vice president with the Lexington Institute. He worked in the Pentagon during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and he has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities as well as the National War College.