WASHINGTON — The new head of Army Futures Command has shifted the organization’s focus from delivering a modernized force by 2030 to designing the Army of 2040, he said Feb. 8 at an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast.
The four-star command — based in Austin, Texas, developed in 2017 and stood up in 2018 — was tasked to modernize the force by 2030. Army leadership developed priorities and lists of weapons systems that would be developed within each priority area to fully flesh out a force capable of successfully fighting near-peer adversaries Russia and China.
Gen. James Rainey became the second Army Futures Command chief in the fall of 2022, almost a year after the first commander, Gen. Mike Murray, retired.
Now, in Rainey’s view, the command’s part in the servicewide modernization effort is “transformation.”
“Modernization is part of transformation, but modernizing and not transforming is going to end up with a bunch of kit without the right leaders, without trained units, without formational lethality,” Rainey said.
“We need to outthink the Chinese, boldly maneuver ahead of them,” Rainey said of the U.S. military’s pacing threat as laid out in the National Defense Strategy. The Army needs to “grab some ground and anchor it, so they wake up trying to figure out how they’re going to keep up with us. I think that’s well within our capabilities as an institution.”
Now that the Army is locked in and not much will change between now and 2030, Rainey said focusing beyond that is what he is “really excited about” and where big opportunities lie.
The command is already working on a concept for 2040, Rainey said, which is taking place at its Futures and Concepts Center. But, he added, “I think we have a little bit of time to slow down … and make sure that we’ve got the assumptions right.”
The key to preparing for a future fight, according to Rainey, is assessing what might and might not change between now and 2040, and the implications of that.
That understanding will “translate into new concept-required capabilities,” he added, “where we can then go out to our teammates inside the Army, in the joint force, to industry, to Congress, [those] that we’re accountable to, and say: ‘Hey, here are the things we’re going to need to be able to do in 2040.’ ”
The service will go after rapidly fielding some capabilities “aggressively,” but some others will not be possible yet and pursued through research and experimentation, he said.
Rainey stressed the need to move now to pursue a force design for 2040, even though a big focus is turned to meeting the goals set out for 2030. To deliver capability by 2040 means fielding must begin in 2035, Rainey added, which means bending metal in 2030 and developing funding plans even earlier.
“I know I said to slow down, but I meant a little bit,” Rainey said. “We’ve got a sense of urgency, and it’s a huge opportunity. Now’s the time to get this.”
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.