Army Equipment Modernization: Preparing to Deliver Future Decisive Capabilities

Article excerpt

Equipping the U.S. Army is a tremendously complex endeavor. While we often focus on some of the endemic challenges it carries - cost and schedule risks, lack of flexibility due to prolix regulation and funding instability - it is worthwhile to note that we continue to succeed in fielding the best equipped Army in the world, by any margin. Our ongoing success over the course of two centuries is grounded in two overriding principles: a paramount commitment to the soldier's safety and mission success, and an uncommon ability to adapt to change. The latter principle recognizes that Army modernization consists of more than a set of upgraded weapon systems; it reflects a perspective embracing adaptation and change in response to threats. As we look ahead to the next era of Army equipping modernization, the only known certainty is that such adaptation will again prove critical.

Change is What the Army Does

Consider that as recently as 12 years ago, at the start of the 21st century, the Army found itself in the initial stages of transformation to a restructured force. Not a single mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) or double-V hull Stryker vehicle had yet been fielded, and the state of available technology would have precluded a Network Integration Exercise from forming such a valuable part of our processes. As we began combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army essentially went to war with the equipment we had: systems designed to fight large land battles during the Cold War. Few military planners or strategists could have adequately predicted that our investments would shift so rapidly to armored vehicles and other enhanced force protection efforts, including counter-improvised explosive devices.

The need for new technologies to solve unforeseen threats and problems unleashed a wave of innovation and creative strategy designed to meet the pressing need for change. The aforementioned MRAP vehicles and MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles were delivered in 12 and 15 months, respectively; both were engineered to improve soldier protection and capability. The combat-proven, blast-deflecting Stryker double-V hull was only a drawing in 2010. Today, there are more than 300 systems saving soldiers' lives in Afghanistan. In addition, unmanned aircraft systems changed how we fight by providing our commanders with highly accurate intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition data. We also focused on other innovations such as pelvic protection gear and state-of-the-art flame-resistant uniforms to safeguard our soldiers.

The strategic landscape, as it always does, continues to evolve. The Army is already preparing for the end of combat operations in Afghanistan and adapting to strategic planning guidance calling for a greater focus on the AsiaPacific region and greater emphasis on responses to sophisticated, technologically proficient threats. This calls for a well-equipped, technologically enabled Army prepared with cutting-edge intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that is also prepared to respond to cyber intrusion and electronic warfare threats, among others. While we succeeded in rapidly meeting the dangerous threats inherent in ongoing counterinsurgency operations started in the last decade, the threat remains. We cannot afford to begin the process of changing to meet future challenges once they are already upon us. This next wave of modernization must begin now.

Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade

As an initial step, the Army must recognize the enduring value of certain lessons from the last decade of combat as it prepares for future change. The rapidly accelerating pace of technologies incorporated into our interdependent systems demands unprecedented agility that calls for redefining the public-private partnership to use the best outcomes of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) innovation and government investment. We have learned that the commercial market can succeed in delivering cutting-edge solutions for Army requirements given the opportunity. …