Among the notable moments during this year’s Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) conference was the announcement of the intent to stand up a Modernization Command by mid-2018. Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy indicated the Command will consist of “cross-functional teams” reporting directly to the undersecretary of the Army and the vice chief of staff.
The intent of this ambitious undertaking is to create the mechanism for rapidly identifying gaps, determining capabilities and spurring industry to bring forward new concepts around six priorities. These include next-generation combat vehicles, air and missile defense, soldier lethality, improved long-range precision fires, vertical lift platforms, and a mobile and expeditionary Army network. These priorities have been topics of intense discussion over several years, so there were few surprises about the focus.
From my perspective, the concept should have broad industry support, as the intent is to streamline the delivery of needed capabilities to the warfighter. I would further argue that improving the quality and speed of capabilities delivery is much needed and long overdue.
This is not the first time that Army leadership has unveiled a new initiative aimed at fixing acquisitions. The mechanism for how the government buys warfighting capabilities could and should work better. To illustrate this point, it’s been more than six years since the Army secretary first talked about changes to the tactical radios program, and while there is evidence of this change providing value in the field today, there’s more work to be done.
While the programs that are caught in perpetual do-loops often involve technology, the issue is not fundamentally a technology problem—it’s a process problem.
The Army is being careful when realigning responsibilities under a new Command, being mindful not to create new layers of oversight that could impede the path to success. Importantly, the Army also needs to “bake-in” industry collaboration from the start as they create this new model of rapid fielding.
What’s the best model?
Unfortunately, there are few models that the Army can emulate or adapt for the current need. The Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) is held up as a possible blueprint, given past successes at filling gaps. But, there’s a notable difference between filling gaps and fielding capabilities at scale.
As the Army stands up the Modernization Command within a year’s time, it faces some daunting, yet addressable challenges. The “big rocks” as I see them are:
• Scale—As noted with the RCO and other possible acquisition models (such as SOCOM for example), the Army needs capabilities that can be developed and fielded on an enormous scale. While there are many examples of excellent innovative technologies that work perfectly in smaller units, few can be scaled +10X to meet the needs of “big Army.”
• Integration with existing tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) —A challenge closely related to scale, new capabilities must either fit with, or require adaptation to, the Army’s tactics, techniques and procedures. I know from experience, changing doctrine requires process and culture change. Neither of which are done easily or quickly, but the importance of integration cannot be overlooked.
• Accelerate pace of current programs—The Army has many mature programs currently underway, and, in some cases, those programs are capable today of delivering value to the warfighter. It’s understandably difficult to suppress the urge to wait on something because there’s a possibility that a better option may soon be ready. Speaking from a tactical radios perspective, we’ve experienced that “start-stop-change-pause” dynamic firsthand. Nothing will deter small business innovators (which the Army says it needs) more than customer uncertainty, as they don’t have the capital to wait for an order.
Collaboration Is key
The Army cannot solve this challenge alone and industry must be ready to do its part to support the Modernization Command. A good start would be to refine and streamline—within a legally viable model—the way in which Army gets inputs from industry. Talking with industry should start before requirements are set to ensure industry is able to at least meet the requirements threshold. Too often programs are delayed because requirements have been set that go far beyond what industry is able to provide at a given time.
Industry days and engagement with associations, such as AUSA and AFCEA, can help the Army keep industry informed. Likewise, the media can be valuable messengers and the Army has been quick to use the power of the press in the past. Communication, however, is needed early and often to ensure that industry is not only tracking, but is also doing its part to support where the Army is going on force modernization.
Maj. Gen. Dennis Moran (ret.) is the vice president of Government Business Development for Harris Corporation.