WASHINGTON — Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville breezed through his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing May 2 for the position of Army chief of staff, answering a variety of questions that showed he’s picking up the torch in the service’s race to modernize the force.

This comes as no surprise, as he’s been at the table for all the major, transformative changes the Army has made in the past several years. He also has contributed to large and small decisions across all of the service’s programs by taking part in extensive, deep dives into portfolios to make sure efforts align with the Army’s goal to have a fully modernized force by 2028.

But McConville stressed the Army can’t accomplish any of that with an unpredictable budget — if the government relapses into continuing resolutions or sequestration.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked McConville what would happen to the Army if budget caps kicked back in, cutting defense programs by 13 percent, which would translate to the Defense Department having to operate at $71 billion below fiscal 2019 funding levels.

“It would be devastating to the United States Army,” he said. “I think we’ve made tremendous gains over the past two and a half years.

“We are at a critical point in modernization where we are starting to bring on systems which we believe we must have in great power competition and to avoid great power conflict,” McConville said, adding the Army would have to make cuts or stop growing the force and that it would affect the overall quality of life for soldiers and their families.

“We need the budget and we need the budget we requested,” he said.

Should Congress fail to pass an FY20 budget on time and instead adopt a continuing resolution, McConville said about 85 modernization programs would be unable to start.

The Army is undertaking ambitious modernization efforts through the new four-star-led Army Futures Command, which is taking on capabilities development in long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality. Many of these efforts will kick off major prototyping efforts in the next year.

McConville added there are 33 production line increases planned in FY20 for current weapons systems that won’t get those increases, and commands will have to slow down training to hedge against funding uncertainty.

This means readiness of the present force will suffer, as will the Army’s future readiness, he said.

This year, the Defense Department shifted $164 billion of defense spending in its FY20 request into its overseas contingency operations account to stay within the statutory budget cap level of $576 billion. This move was met with resistance by House Democrats, who blasted what they view as an accounting stunt during a May 1 hearing in a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

According to McConville’s answers to prepared policy questions distributed at the hearing, should OCO funding not be available as part of the Army’s budget, it would “be catastrophic to the Army’s readiness and modernization efforts.”

Without going into detail, he wrote that if forced to make cuts in FY20 due to a lack of OCO funding, the Army would have to “reduce training, slow modernization efforts, decrease quality of life initiatives at installations, and reduce end strength, ultimately resulting in reversing our readiness gains over the last three years and the inability to meet National Defense Strategy requirements at acceptable risk.”

McConville advocated for a variety of modernization programs during the hearing, such as the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority, long-range precision fires. He said if the Army sticks to LRPF efforts underway and stays on track, then “future chiefs will no longer have to say they are outgunned or out-ranged in the future.”

McConville’s nomination will now be forwarded for consideration by the full Senate.

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.

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