WASHINGTON — It won’t be long until U.S. Army units receive hypersonic weapons, long-range missiles and other priority capabilities, and the head of Futures Command is depending on a new process to get it done without delay.
Some of that is due to reconfigured relationships among the acquisition, development and requirements communities through the establishment of the four-star command, which is tasked with driving major modernization priorities to the finish line by the early 2030s.
Army Futures Command is now three years old and has experienced “rocky patches” while working with acquisition officials, Gen. Mike Murray told Defense News. The troubles with the relationship were brought to bear in fall 2019 when the Army’s solicitation for an optionally manned fighting vehicle to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle received only one response.
That single bid was disqualified because a physical sample could not be delivered on time. The Army refused to extend the deadline.
But the larger issue at play, as multiple sources conveyed at the time, were the different approaches of the Army acquisition community and Futures Command in handling the lack of participation brought on by the competition’s schedule and requirements.
Sources confirmed that the acquisition side of the house was willing to agree to an extension, but AFC, which in charge of rapid requirements, development and prototyping efforts ahead of programs of record, insisted the Army adhere to the schedule.
It was a reality check for the Army, which eventually reconfigured the OMFV program to include more extensive digital design on the front end, a new schedule and a shorter list of requirements, choosing to instead share with industry a broad set of nine desired characteristics for the new vehicle.
“I’m very comfortable with where the relationship is,” Murray said, “and [the office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology] ASAALT, they were absolutely involved in the standup of AFC.”
“There are some people out there that said pieces of ASAALT should have been a part of AFC,” Murray added. “I don’t agree with that.
“When you have people looking at things from two different perspectives, I think that tension is good.”
Ambitious weapons schedule
Before AFC existed, the Army’s track record for delivering major weapons systems to troops over several decades was poor.
The process was not set up to deliver developmental materiel, Murray explained, “but getting ASAALT involved at the very beginning, even before we have a requirement, has been critical to, I think, what success we’ve had.”
AFC and ASAALT are in a “supporting-supported relationship,” Murray added. “I think that has been one of the key lessons learned coming out of this. I don’t have the authorities to deliver a single thing. I can’t … get capability in soldiers’ hands without ASAALT. They can do their job without AFC. I would just argue that it’s working better with the partnership than without it.”
New Army Secretary Christine Wormuth acknowledged the tension between the modernization and acquisition organizations, calling them “growing pains” during the Defense News Conference last month. But she stressed the two are now “working well together.”
The law is clear that acquisition authority resides with ASAALT, Wormuth said. And although she is reviewing areas where authorities and responsibilities appear ambiguous, she said there aren’t “a large number of places where there’s ambiguity around that.”
The Army has made progress toward rapidly fielding systems, particularly those centered around soldiers, such as the Enhanced Night Vision-Goggles and early iterations of the Integrated Visual Augmentation Device — a heads-up display providing situational awareness and intelligence to soldiers throughout an operation.
But for fiscal 2023, the Army plans to have some critical weapon systems under development and sent to initial units. For example, the service plans to field a ground-launched hypersonic weapon capability, a Precision Strike Missile, the Extended Range Cannon Artillery system and a mid-range capability missile battery in that fiscal year.
By the time AFC is five years old, Murray said, the Army will have fielded or delivered more than 20 systems to soldiers.
“What can get in the way? A test can get in the way,” Murray said. “It’s not unique to the Army. Most acquisition plans don’t survive contact in terms of schedule, so there are a lot of things that could get in the way.”
But one of the primary purposes of AFC and its partnership with ASAALT is to “try to keep things on track,” he said. And with soldiers involved from the beginning through the newly established soldier-centered design processes, “I think that has helped us accelerate, to be able to say we’re going to deliver materiel within a five-year period.”
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.