WASHINGTON — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown the U.S. Army that its modernization priorities are properly focused, Gen. James McConville, the service’s chief of staff, told reporters during a July 7 visit to U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany.
McConville was joined by the command’s new leader, Gen. Darryl Williams, who took over the job from Gen. Chris Cavoli, who now serves as the commander of U.S. European Command.
The U.S. Army’s forces in Europe are busy supporting and training Ukrainian troops and are capturing lessons learned from the fight in the country, according to McConville. He said that Ukraine’s deputy land forces commander has provided war insights to the U.S. military as well as to other NATO countries who are seeking to help the country defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
McConville stressed combat leadership skills as key for success in large-scale, combined-arms operations, in addition to logistics, training and the ability to disperse command-and-control across the battlefield and at every echelon.
The fighting has also shown the importance of long-range precision fires, he added.
For the U.S. Army, that is its number one modernization priority. The service is poised to initially field its Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) weapon system and a Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile in fiscal 2023 to take out enemy targets from a safe, stand-off distance.
“Now these are extremely long-range precision fires, but that reaffirms our commitment to developing those capabilities,” McConville said.
The Army set up a four-star command less than five years ago — Army Futures Command — that is focused on developing and fielding capabilities across six major modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, the Network, Air-and-Missile Defense, and Soldier Lethality.
The Army is also focused on countering unmanned aircraft systems on the battlefield, a crucial capability as flying drones continue to show how vulnerable even heavily armored tanks can be to strikes from above.
McConville noted how artillery that is being used in the fight in Ukraine has been targeted by Russian UAS, requiring counter-drone systems to protect the cannons.
The need for armored fighting vehicles is also on display in Ukraine, reaffirming the U.S. Army’s plans to pursue next-generation combat vehicle efforts, according to McConville.
The Army entered the critical design and prototype phases of a competition to develop a new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, which is expected to be fielded by 2030. Industry has been taking notes from Ukraine as it begins detailed design work on possible vehicle plans.
The Ukrainian military and Eastern European allies also wants more helicopters, and the Army is seeing long-range capabilities as well as greater lethality and stand-off as particularly vital features in a future vertical lift aircraft, McConville said. The service poised to select a winner to build a new Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft in September and is in the midst of a competitive prototyping phase for a Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft — both expected to be fielded in the early 2030s.
Having a robust information network is also proving important, McConville noted. The Army is pursuing a modern, resilient battlefield network as one of its top priorities. Ukraine has struggled with its communications systems.
Also vital to the fight are better air-and-missile defense capabilities, the chief stressed. “The Ukrainians have been very effective with their Stinger [man-portable air defense systems] and their [other] air defense systems,” McConville said.
Bringing all those capabilities together on the battlefield makes the difference, he added. “The notion of speed, range and convergence, the ability to locate targets on the battlefield and quickly service them with lethal means is going to be very, very important now and even more important in the future.”
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.