Army gives initial details on acquisition reorganization, but numerous questions remain

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Senior Army leaders on Monday described the broad outlines of what they said would be the most significant reorganization of the service in the past 45 years, vowing that a forthcoming Army Futures Command would fix problems in the service’s current acquisition system, make sure the Army can outmatch potential adversaries like China and Russia, and ensure that it is technologically dominant for decades to come.

Those assurances came amid several key questions that have yet to be answered, including who will lead the new command, exactly which elements of existing Army organizations will be realigned to assemble the new modernization hub and where its headquarters will be located.

But Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army said the new command —scheduled to reach initial operating capability in a yet-to-be-announced city just a few months from now — would reveal itself to be a move toward “smart, bold reform.”

“We have a comprehensive plan to ensure our long-term technological dominance,” he said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama. “It begins with cross-functional teams, but it will see its full embodiment with the creation of Army Futures Command. It is as critical to the Army of the 2020s as Training and Doctrine Command, Army Materiel Command and Army Forces Command were in 1973 to the Army of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.”

Esper’s mention of 1973 was a reference to the last major Army reorganization, which initially created TRADOC, AMC and FORSCOM, the Army’s three current major commands. The new Futures Command is intended to be on par with those four-star commands, and will become the Army’s fourth at that stature.

It will be primarily focused on the Army’s equipping needs beyond the current budget cycle, and is meant to consolidate the Army’s thinking about long-term military requirements, training, budgeting and operating concepts in one place, while simultaneously engineering better ways to navigate DoD’s acquisition bureaucracy. Among the objectives are to make more use of rapid prototyping and reduce the Army’s current timeline for setting  requirements for major weapons systems from the seven years it takes now to a maximum of two.

To achieve  all of that, the new command will inherit some existing elements of TRADOC, AMC and FORSCOM, plus Army Test and Evaluation Command, though the proportions of the realignments from those commands are not yet clear.

Acquisition program managers and program executive officers, meanwhile, will still report to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA (ALT)) — a civilian chain of command that’s defined in federal law — but PMs and PEOs will be “matrixed” to Futures Command, said Ryan McCarthy, the undersecretary of the Army.

“[Futures Command] will restructure roles, responsibilities, concepts, requirements and acquisition under one roof,” he said. “Think of it as rewiring and a delayering of the current structure and processes from across the entire Army. This command will have three subordinate elements built from existing Army structure and functions. Only the Futures Command headquarters will be situated in the soon-to-be-announced urban center. All other aspects of the command will stay in place, and realistically, folks will just change the unit patch on their sleeve.”

The command’s three “subordinate elements” and focus areas will be:

  • Futures and Concepts. It will “Identify and prioritize capability development needs and opportunities based on threat and technology.”
  • Combat Development, which will “conceptualize and develop requirements for identified needs and opportunities.”
  • Combat Systems. It will “Refine, engineer and produce developed solutions.”

Since last October, the planning process for Army Futures Command has been led by eight cross-functional teams that match the service’s main modernization priorities, including long-range precision weapons, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, missile defense, and a better-protected and more mobile tactical network.

Officials said those teams will become an enduring part of the new AFC, though some teams will be added and others will cease to exist over time as the Army’s modernization priorities change. But in general, as part of the “matrixed” concept of operations, the team members will be made up of officials from across the Army who will continue to wear more than one hat.

Gen. James McConville, the Army’s vice chief of staff, suggested that the new structure was deliberately intended to go outside traditional notions of “supporting commands” and “supported commands.”

“At the end of the day, the person being supported is the soldier, and what we’re trying to do is get the soldier the equipment they need so they can win on the battlefield,” he said. “PMs and PEOs will report to ASA(ALT), but the same time they’re in support, working with, collaborating with the CFTs in Futures Command so that we don’t have seams and gaps as we go forward.”

McCarthy said the Army plans to name a commander to lead AFC within the next several weeks. That general officer will be in charge of getting the command in shape to declare initial operating capability by this summer.

Full operating capability — meaning a fully-staffed headquarters, new facilities and a full implementation of the internal organizational changes the Army plans to make — is scheduled for a year after that.

Army officials have given few clues about the likely location of the new headquarters, other than to say that it will be in an “urban center” somewhere in the continental U.S., presumably outside of the Washington, D.C. region.

Dozens of cities are currently in the running, and McCarthy said the Army plans to narrow the list to 10 within the next few months. After that, he and McConville will select three finalists and then visit them in person before recommending the final location, which will be ultimately chosen by Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff.

The criteria the Army will use in its selection process are “proximity to talent, proximity to private sector innovation, academic STEM and R&D, quality of life, availability, cost and time assessment and assessment of civic support,” McCarthy said.

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