Magazine article National Defense

Will Road to Leaner Army Lead to Riches?

Magazine article National Defense

Will Road to Leaner Army Lead to Riches?

Article excerpt

INSIDE TRACK

When Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki announced his plan last month to make the Army lighter and more easily deployable, he also set in motion potentially lucrative ventures for contractors-both for traditional Army suppliers and for others seeking to join the Pentagon contracting community.

The question in many industrialists' minds, however, is how the chief of staffs new "vision" for the Army will translate into contracts and dollars. Is the Army serious about this, or does it expect it will be a "Houdini operation?" one general officer quipped. Shinseki's actions also prompted flashbacks to previous attempts to reinvent the Army, which did not materialize.

Senior service officials and government contracting experts attempted to provide some answers during a recent conference in Dearborn, Mich. The event's main sponsor, the Army TankAutomotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), is now a "key player" in making the chief's vision a reality, according to TACOM's chief, Maj. Gen. John S. Caldwell Jr.

He explained that, because TACOM is responsible for about 70 percent of the platforms and major equipment used Army-wide, for obvious reasons, the command will have a big responsibility in making the service more "strategically relevant."

Shinseki became the Army's top officer shortly after the end of the air war over Kosovo, a conflict that proved to be a rattling experience for the Army because it was fought with hardly any participation by the service. "There was a great deal of urgency for Gen. Shinseki" to issue marching orders to make the Army easier to deploy in small-scale contingencies, said retired Gen. Johnnie E. Wilson, whose last military assignment was as chief of the Army Materiel Command (AMC), TACOM's parent organization.

"Comments about the Army being too slow, too cumbersome" were too distressing for the chief to bear, Wilson said in a recent interview. Shinseki had to do something quickly. "He couldn't afford to have the world pass us by," Wilson said.

"Shinseki really comes with a great deal of credibility," Wilson noted, "because he had first-hand knowledge of Army operations in the Balkans, having commanded troops in Bosnia."

Meanwhile, AMC has 50,000 employees working "around the clock" to fulfill the chief's goals, according to AMC's second-incommand, Lt. Gen. James M. Link. "We are revising our vision as we speak," he told the conference. "The chief's vision was just a start. There's more coming."

The good news for industry, both Caldwell and Link stressed, is that most of the technology development and procurement by AMC and TACOM are outsourced to contractors. Those firms which can deliver products and services that make the Army faster and leaner have the opportunity of the millennium, both generals asserted. AMC is a nearly $20 billion-a-year operation. TACOM alone plans to award up to $6 billion a year in contracts by 2003.

"This is an important time to partner" with the Army, Link said. "The door is open ... more open now than I've ever seen it in my career."

The basic war-fighting unit of Shinseki's blueprint is a so-called medium brigade, two of which will stand up at Fort Lewis, Wash., as early as next year. The cornerstone of the lighter Army will be a new combat vehicle, maybe a tank that can fight like the Abramsand protect the crew-but weighs two-thirds less. …

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