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The US Army: Defending America in an Uncertain World

Can the Army effectively transform itself in the face of fiscal, programmatic and global security challenges?

March 9, 2011
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The US Army of Tomorrow
I just attended the Association of the US Army (AUSA) Meeting in Ft Lauderdale, FL, and listened as all the US Army leadership--including the Chief of Staff, General Casey, the Vice Chief, General Chiarelli, and Undersecretary of the Army Mr. Westphal--were very forthright and honest about their viewpoints on future Army budgets, the ongoing War on Terror, and the role of the US Army in these and other potential conflicts. However, even though they represented different organizational and civilian/military leadership perspectives, they all spoke with clarity from the same sheet of music--“in a singular Army voice"--describing the business challenges that industry and military will face in the future. “The future sure ain’t what it used to be,” said Yogi Berra. It’s an old saying, but it seems to be particularly relevant for today’s DoD market and our discussions of the future of the Army. For us in the RF/microwave industry, we need to be aware of what’s happening at the services and DoD, and have some additional insight behind the scenes. I will highlight a few of the very important issues and try to give some perspectives on how all of this will come together and shape the US Army and its view toward the future.

The Battlefield Landscape of Budgets vs Bullets vs Dollars vs Politics
The DoD Budget in FY 2001 of about $250 B was less than half of what it is today. Those old DoD Budget figures seemed reasonably good back then. Times have indeed changed. Today, at close to $700 B for a DoD Wartime Budget, we can’t even comprehend those past budgets in today’s wartime context. We are at the peak of that spending hill, which we have climbed for over the past decade. And now we are beginning the downward journey on the other side of the bell curve.

In this resource constrained Defense Budget Environment, there are no “sacred cows” over the upcoming Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP). We all know tougher times are upon us. But how tough will it be? The Army is talking now about incremental “reset” activities, meaning how they will upgrade their war fighting capabilities almost in a “spiral developmental fashion.” This will be done while troops are rotated home and refreshed as part of their cyclical combat deployments. The future looks more like “agile and quick” upgrades more frequently as opposed to “generational and protracted” acquisition programs. Yes, there will still be formal acquisition programs that will follow all DoD Milestone Planning and Guidance, but which ones will survive? This is clearly the time for companies, particularly those in the RF and microwave industry who provide “the eyes and ears of most sensors” with technology devices and circuits/modules, to begin to step up to the challenges to market our products and services to the US Army.

AUSA Winter Symposium
Amidst the Federal Budget turmoil in DC over economic and political issues, it was a good respite to go to sunny Florida and attend the Association of the US Army (AUSA) Winter Symposium and Conference, run by the Institute of Land Warfare. There were many Army officials speaking on emerging technology, including Dr. Malcolm O’Neal, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition and Logistics. He sounded the call for acquisition streamlining and reform. He called for the need for efficiency in bringing technology to the warfighter more quickly and affordably.

The concept of the soldier “as the most complex weapons system on the battlefield” was echoed by all speakers. All spoke on how we must give the soldier the most advanced tools they will need to do their job. It was also pointed out that S&T will be the enabler that will help the Army fill the high priority gaps in Army weapons and systems. Industry was challenged to bring all its good ideas to the Army for consideration. As Marilyn Freeman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology, said, “My challenge to you is be a partner to change.” We got straight talk from Senior Army leadership asking for help. BG Peter Fuller, PEO Soldier, addressed the concept of the Individual Soldier and the Small Unit as the core concept in future Army Doctrine and War fighting capability.

The AUSA Exhibitors
There were hundreds of companies in the exhibit halls, manned by “industry marketing types” who had on their best “game faces” by saying how good business was. There was new technology, hardware concepts and potential weapons systems on display by all the major industry players. Yet the huge "elephant in the room” was the realization that the conflicts anticipated for future budgets, the ensuing “blood all over the floor,” and the upcoming battles will drive both uncertainty and hesitation on the part of defense contractors to invest. “All the cuts... It just cannot become true,” I was told by an exhibitor. I wondered if he was around during the turmoil of the 1980s when SECNAV John Lehman second sourced every NAVY missile program with fixed priced contracts. Yes, change can happen. Cuts can happen. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. History sometimes has a funny way of repeating itself.

At AUSA you could feel it in the air, and when pressed, all exhibitors privately voiced concern about the future. And for the first time in memory, about 15% of the exhibit hall was not occupied, with lots of room left and untaken. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very good show, well attended and supported by all US Army leadership. The AUSA, and its President, Gordon Sullivan (USA General (ret) and former Chief of Staff of the Army), is a strong voice in supporting our US Army and its soldiers. Listening to all the Army senior leadership at one time is indeed truly awe inspiring. However, there is a story within the story here on how “the devil of change is at the door” and we all should be aware of its existence and how it should be addressed by us as prudent business executives. As members of the RF/microwave industry this means we need to stay close to our customers, understand their needs and requirements, and help them craft sound acquisition programs for the US Army.

The Soldier as a Decisive Weapon
There was great emphasis put on the concept of developing the soldier as the “decisive weapon on the battlefield,” and how with new technology it will make them “the game changers” in the fight. The Army S&T leadership spoke eloquently on how the dismounted soldier needs a competitive edge. As Dr. O’Neil said, “I want to give soldiers a decisive edge in combat. I want to focus on the dismounted soldier. Once we get out of our GCV (Ground Combat Vehicle), our Abrams Tanks, or once we drop from our Black Hawk helicopters, the question is what makes us different from the bad guy on the other side?” There was a lot of dialogue on giving the soldier a technology boost to over match their adversaries, taking advantage of emerging technologies to equip the warfighter.

Examples included a focus on networking the dismounted soldier and supporting increased combat capability in small units, supporting the fight against IEDs and mission training. According to LTG Michael Vane, CG of the US Army Capabilities Integration Center, “Soldier protection is fundamental to any efforts to enhance battlefield effectiveness. For the RF/microwave industry, these concepts and their enabling technologies are issues that are right at the 'sweet spot' of what we do as an industry--Radar, Electronic Warfare, SATCOM, Radio Communications, Combat ID, RCIED Jammers and Force Protection technology. We need to contribute to this effort with our leadership and expertise."

US Army and Industry; The Need for Partnerships
There were many panel sessions during the three days, which featured good interchanges between the military and industry on how to support the Army as it implements concepts to address increased productivity, drive economic efficiency and capitalize on cost savings. The Economic Efficiencies issues are being driven across all three services by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Aston Carter. His 09/24/10 Pentagon Directive, “Better Buying Power: Guidance for Obtaining Greater Efficiencies and Productivity in Defense Spending,” is the bible on this matter. This has set in place the grounding principles to enact and empower the services to go forward on this issue.

During the AUSA meeting, however, it seemed to come down to a discussion of cooperation and partnering with each other—industry and the Army. The discussion here was focused by LTG Bill Phillips, Principle Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, who said, “We need a strong relationship with our industry partners so they can give us the feedback needed to make the best decisions possible.” The Commanding General of the US Army Material Command then got up and said, “We need to move from partnerships to relationships with industry.” As we all know, savings and efficiencies aren’t driven by just good wishes and speeches at conferences. They are driven by the need to have identifiable, executable and affordable requirements and they need to be tied to sound acquisition strategies. As we know, the key element of the DoD plan for efficiencies is recognition that much of the cost savings will be re-invested in Army programs. There is a huge incentive on the side of the military to succeed and a compelling argument here to drive towards the successful implementation of these concepts.

The FY 12 Budget Submission: The Army Has Achieved a Sustaining Balance
General George Casey, the Army’s Chief of Staff, has recently testified to Congress that the Army FY 12 Budget submission marks “a transition point” between restoring balance to the forces and sustaining that balance. “After a decade of hard work we have a force that is the right size, that is organized in a versatile modular fashion on a predictable rotational cycle, and that has sufficient time at home to begin training for a full range of missions and to recover from a decade of war,” according to the General.

Army Secretary McHugh has publically stated that the FY 12 Army Budget request is critical to our soldiers by supporting the extraordinary strides made by the Army in state-of-the-art networks, tactical wheeled vehicles and combat vehicle modernization programs. For the network, the Army is asking for $974 M in procurement dollars and $298 M in R&D dollars for WIN-T, which will become the cornerstone for Army battlefield communications. The Army is seeking $1.5 B for tactical wheeled vehicle modernization and $1.4 B for the Army’s combat vehicle modernization strategy, including $884 M for the Ground Combat vehicle and $156 M for modernization for Stryker, Bradley and Abrams programs.

The Army has also conducted a review of its acquisition system from cradle to grave. They are reviewing matters to include the evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Army’s acquisition processes. They have laid out their plans, so the RF/microwave industry needs to become engaged as the performance of these sensor-based weapons and communications systems is clearly dependent on our advanced technology offerings.

We need to recognize the challenges and the new business reality of competing in today’s Defense Budget environment. We need to invest the time and effort here to work with the Army “in a partnering fashion” to help them succeed. We all need to create for our RF/microwave companies the circumstances to drive our own success in this dynamic and rapidly evolving environment. We can all survive--indeed thrive in this environment--if we can transform ourselves from our past business practices of being just contractors, and evolve that into partnerships and begin to spin that into developing solid business relationships.

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