WASHINGTON — Last year, the U.S. Army’s leaders hunkered down and examined all of its programs to make decisions about when to pare back legacy weapons to make way for new and modern big-ticket items that fit more squarely with the service’s focus on lethality.
These big-ticket items include new helicopters, combat vehicles, missile defense systems, a network and communications framework, and soldier systems.
The service said many times over that it had reached an inflection point and needed to start sunsetting legacy systems to pay for the new capabilities expected to come online at a surprisingly rapid pace for a military service.
Prior to the Army’s fiscal 2020 budget request rollout, leadership touted that they found roughly $30 billion over the next five years in both cost avoidance — which amounted to roughly $8 billion — and truncated and outright terminated programs that didn’t fit within the service’s modernization goals and its new Multidomain Operations doctrine .
Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy said earlier this month that the Army plans to cut $22 billion in current programs across the five-year defense plan.
The FY20 budget request shows some decisions to move away from current systems, like cuts to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, but nothing dramatic. Even the Army’s budget justification documents that show plans for each program across a five-year period don’t illustrate all the future moves to divest legacy systems and adopt modernized equipment.
Partly, it makes sense not to see these cuts yet, as one defense official told Defense News, because the service needs to hit mini-inflection points along the road as it relates to each legacy and future program.
Cuts to legacy programs must align with readiness and the affordability of new technology as they each come along, the thinking goes.
According to McCarthy, most of the $22 billion the service freed up as the result of cutting programs or slowing procurement came from very small programs, little pots of money here and there, that did not pass the lethality litmus test.
Ultimately, the Army cut 93 programs and slowed the procurement or schedules for 93 more across the five-year budget plan.
According to a review of major legacy systems’ procurement accounts in the FY20 justification documents, there are few programs that suffered obvious decrements, but the vehicles portfolio appears to have suffered the most when it comes to more high-profile systems.
Funding for modifications — engineering change proposals — to the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle was hit hard in the outyears. While funding in FY20 through FY21 doesn’t show major cuts, the program will get $163 million less in in FY22 than was planned, according to a comparison of past justification books.
Then in FY23, the program loses almost $1 billion in funding. The FY19 book shows Bradley was to receive $840 million in funding for modifications, but the request now shows the Army will only ask for $60.9 million in FY23. In FY24, the service is asking for $55.9 million.
The cuts complement the Army’s stated plan to procure five more sets of Bradley A4 vehicles, with one going to pre-positioned stock in Europe and the other four replacing the oldest sets of Bradleys. Then the program will stop to make way for the Army’s next-generation combat vehicle.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is also taking a hefty cut over the next five years. The service plans to cut roughly 1,000 vehicles over the period from FY20 through FY23. The FY19 budget materials show the Army planned to buy 11,408 vehicles during that time and has dropped that number to 10,556 in this year’s documents.
And while the objective requirement remains the same in both the FY19 and FY20 books — 49,099 trucks — McCarthy told reporters during a roundtable that the top-line requirement was under evaluation and could change very soon.
The Ground Mobility Vehicle, or GMV, also appears to have been cut significantly.
The Army, in 2017, established an objective requirement of 2,065 vehicles for the Army and 317 vehicles for special operations. According to a comparison of the budget documents from this year and last, the Army planned to buy 295 vehicles for five airborne infantry brigade combat teams as well as 1,770 Infantry Squad Vehicles. The service also wanted to buy 317 vehicles for special operators.
But now the Army’s direction is to procure 168 GMV 1.1 vehicles for three airborne IBCTs, and 127 vehicles for special operators. The figures for planned Infantry Squad Vehicles are not broken out across the five-year program. But according to the documents, the Army plans to buy 69 special operations vehicles and 15 ISVs in FY20.
A Federal Business Opportunities notice posted earlier this month informing industry of the Army’s acquisition strategy shows the service plans to buy 118 ISVs in FY21; 177 in FY22; 177 in FY23; and 162 in FY24.
On the aviation side, the Chinook helo took the biggest hit. The service also plans to stop buying the newest version of the CH-47 F-model Chinook for the conventional force after FY20, closing out the program at the end of the engineering and manufacturing development phase. It will only build MH-47Gs for special operators in subsequent years.
According to the Army’s budget documents, the service will buy 23 less Chinooks from FY20 through FY23 than it planned just a year ago.
The service is also cutting modification plans to the CH-47. The Army plans to spend $19 million in Chinook modifications from FY20 through FY24. By comparison, it planned to spend $65.7 million from FY20 through FY23, according to last year’s budget books.
While the Army has whittled away at some of its legacy programs for the near future, it injected funding into other legacy systems.
The UH-60 Mike-model Black Hawk helicopter’s procurement is accelerating. The service plans to buy 73 helicopters in FY20. Last year it had planned to buy 48 in FY20.
It’s unclear whether the purchase plan was intended to accelerate a multiyear procurement of the helicopters to close out the program early to make way for the Army’s future vertical lift aircraft, or if the plus-up is related to other needs, such as those within the National Guard. The question was posed to the Army, but the service did not responded by press time.
The Army is also injecting $550 million per year across the five-year program for Stryker combat vehicle upgrades, with plans to beef up roughly 3,661 vehicles over the course of the program. By the end of the five years, the Army will have upgraded 744 vehicles if it sticks to its plans, according to this year’s budget books.
The M1 Abrams tank is also getting millions of dollars more for modifications needed to increase its lethality. In the FY19 books, the Army planned to spend $1.2 billion from FY20 through FY23 on upgrades; it now plans to spend $1.5 billion over the same time frame.
The service will also upgrade a larger number of tanks. The Army had budgeted for 299 tanks to receive upgraded from FY20 through FY23. That number has been bumped up to 419 tanks over the same period, with plans to upgrade 105 more tanks in FY24, according this year’s books.
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.