Magazine article National Defense

Army Seeks to Quiet Skeptics as It Tries New Acquisition Strategy

Magazine article National Defense

Army Seeks to Quiet Skeptics as It Tries New Acquisition Strategy

Article excerpt

One year after Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the Army's Future Combat Systems program, service leaders say they are moving forward with a new acquisition regime.

"We believe that change in the armed forces generally, and change in our Army specifically, has to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary," said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, deputy commanding general and futures director of the Army Capabilities and Integration Center.

"Affordable modernization" was the slogan introduced at the Association for the United States Army winter conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The announcement came at a time when the service is taking on several initiatives, It is working its way through a portfolio review of all major programs to ensure that it is purchasing new systems in appropriate quantities and with the right capabilities.

Meanwhile, it has embarked on a seven-year process to build a new ground combat vehicle. It is also attempting to field a handful of legacy soldier technologies from the failed FCS program, but is having mixed results. The Army must also permanently integrate mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles into its brigades, as well as new communication devices such as the joint tactical radio system.

Simply put, the Army has a lot on its plate.

Army Secretary John McHugh told Washington, D.C-based reporters: "I think the Army has a significant challenge to do a better job on its modernization efforts."

The strategy seeks to end drawn out development cycles. To modernize equipment, upgrades will be ongoing and improvements are to be made incrementally in two-year cycles, officials said. That's not to say a new helicopter would be designed and fielded within two years. But new capabilities might be integrated on existing platforms in shorter time spans.

"Army modernization is an open book right now. There are a lot of blank pages to fill in the next 12 or 18 months," Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the future force directorate at the Army's training and doctrine command, said at the National Defense Industrial Association ground robotics conference in Miami.

Only one year before, as FCS cancellation speculation persisted, Army officials argued that the family of combat vehicles, small unit equipment and the network that tied them all together was necessary for the service to move forward and modernize.

Now, they take subtle jabs at the program and take pains to distance new programs from Future Combat Systems. "It's more than just the leftovers of FCS," Walker said of the enhanced early brigade combat system--the six technologies that survived the doomed program.

Vice Chief of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, hours after a request for proposals document was released to industry for the new ground combat vehicle, told AUSA attendees that it was "not FCS warmed over."

Vane said, "In the 90s, many believed we would be able to leap ahead in terms of our military capability." After eight years of war, the Army has concluded that this wholesale approach to change was not reasonable, he said.

To frequently refresh technologies, the Army will "field less, more often," Vane said. Requirement documents will be produced more quickly. Soldiers will try out new equipment earlier in the development cycle. The service will "be happy with 70 percent solutions." Encounters with enemies will inform requirements, he added, while describing a constant cycle of learning and adapting.

Two-year cycles are "essential for our Army and will allow us to take better advantage of ... technologies, particularly in the area of information technology," Vane said.

IT products change more rapidly than almost any other piece of equipment the Army purchases, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, Army chief information officer. 'We can't continue to buy IT like a tank," he said at the AUSA conference. …

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