Investing in the Warfighter of 2020

Article excerpt

As the drawdown in Afghanistan accelerates and the footholds of democracy go deeper in Iraq, the U.S. Army must reset and re-equip while facing a dramatic reduction in resources. Yet a backdrop of persistent conflict covers the world from Syria to Somalia. Clearly, our soldiers and squads will be called on again; they must be equipped to be decisive whether engaged in combat or community building.

The United States does not intend to withdraw from the world or shirk its responsibilities. The U.S. Army may get smaller, but it must remain world-class. The new defense strategy defined the future challenge: "This country is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war and, therefore, we are shaping a Joint Force for the future that will be smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced. It will have cutting edge capabilities, exploiting our technological, joint, and networked advantage."

Many lessons were learned this past decade on how to bring forward new technology from the defense and nondefense industrial base to rapidly equip the force. These lessons must not be lost. History shows that dramatic postconflict drawdowns leave us unprepared for future missions. This time. Pentagon planners must keep the soldier at the top of the priority list when making program choices. Soldiers will continue to be our most effective weapons system.

As the Army comes together in October for the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, uniformed leaders should take time to focus on the equipment and technologies that could improve soldier and squad capabilities. The coming drawdown demands a deep dialogue with industry to create an investment plan for continued progress in areas such as lightweight materials for protection; solutions to replace and improve batteries with lighter, renewable and mobile power sources; feeding systems that increase soldier nutrition with more nutrient-dense foods delivered to forward operators in mission-compatible, lighter-weight packaging; creating system-of-systems approaches to integrating the soldiers' "kit"; improved methods of acquisition that move beyond a commodity mind-set; and smart ways to rationalize and focus the disparate research and development (R&D) programs across the services and science and technology agencies to maximize innovation per dollar invested.

The Lessons of 10 Years of Combat

Ten years of continuous conflict have produced dramatic changes in the way the military organizes, trains and equips. For example, the Army reorganized itself into a modular force with brigade combat teams arranged in task forces tailored to specific missions and created eight centers of excellence to provide training in areas such as maneuver, fires, signals and aviation. To meet operational requirements, new platforms and equipment were designed and produced including 25,000 mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, hundreds of tactical robots, and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Fielding these capabilities was made possible by collaboration between DoD and industry. The existing acquisition system was too slow, so a new set of organizations and processes was created specifically to equip the joint force. Today, the rapid equipping force and rapid fielding initiatives provide mechanisms for responding to specific urgent operational needs and outfitting units heading for combat.

Another significant collaborative achievement was in the area of soldier clothing and equipment. The harsh physical environment, nature of the adversary and intensity of combat quickly illuminated inadequacies in standard issue gear. Urgent needs emerged for fire-resistant clothing, improved body armor, new First Strike Rations, rechargeable batteries and improved night illumination. The commercial soldier equipment industry - a diverse collection of large and small businesses - responded to the requirements for large volumes of specialized gear. …