WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army’s program-killing project known as “night court” will continue and become more aggressive in the coming years as demands for the service’s modernization effort increase, the Army’s acting secretary said Wednesday.

Named after the 1980s-era sitcom and a nod to the long hours worked by staff to pull it off, night court in 2018 identified $25 billion in savings and scrapped modernization efforts that the Army plans to use to finance new technologies. Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced another $10 billion of savings in May.

But keeping night court alive will require a deliberate effort until it becomes routine, McCarthy told the audience at the third annual Defense News Conference.

“Night court is kind of like working out: You’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get after it,” McCarthy said. “It’s hard. It wears you out. You think: ‘Boy, it would be easier to just stay in bed.’ But it’s necessary to keep the institution strong. We believe it has been institutionalized. … But we’ve got to keep up the repetitions, and over time it will become a behavior, like a reflex.”

McCarthy, who is expected to face a confirmation hearing to become Army secretary later this month, said as Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams identify requirements for the next generation of Army systems, the effort must become more aggressive.

“What we’ve done in the cross-functional teams, those efforts have been successful,” McCarthy said. "So as we continue to go down the development pipe, they are going to come back with a requirement we are going to need X numbers of systems to lay in across our formations. And as we scale that out over time, that will cost more money.

“So, when you look at where are the opportunities, you have to make choices — divestiture. Legacy systems that we have enjoyed for decades that have performed for us in combat operations for going on 18 years now, some of them will have to go away.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who formerly served as the Army secretary and championed the service’s effort, signaled he will continue night court Pentagon-wide, something that will test his political clout as services are often loathed to give up reliable legacy systems, and lawmakers is even less willing to give up jobs in their districts that would be threatened by program cuts.

But, McCarthy said, the effort is necessary to finance the new technologies the Pentagon needs to gain an advantage over China and Russia.

“Night court will continue. In fact, night court is going prime time with Secretary Esper down the hall,” he said. “It’s necessary to find as much trade space within that [$741 billion] in the ’20 and ’21 budgets to find every penny we can to finance our ambitions. Every investment program has a divestiture.”

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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