McCarthy: Next two years critical to Army modernization

The next 18 to 24 months will be crucial to the Army’s plan to modernize and to the success of its new Futures Command, according to acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

The Army will be investing heavily in new systems, testing new prototypes and opening up billions of dollars in new opportunities for businesses during that time period, McCarthy said Tuesday at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

McCarthy added that the juncture is critical to move the Army forward into an era of great power competition as it divests from legacy systems and invests in 31 new programs that are aimed at bringing the Army into the future.

The monumental shift comes as the service is completely changing the way it acquires weapons through its Futures Command, which puts an emphasis on prototyping weapons quickly, failing fast and fielding in only a few years. That’s in comparison to the more time consuming method from the past of trying to perfect an exquisite program over many years.

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“You’re going to see a lot of these prototypes landing this fall and into next spring and summer,” McCarthy said. “Some of them are going to work and some of them won’t. For the leadership in the Army, we have to communicate to the Defense Department and others that as long as we can learn from the prototypes, that we can adjust, that we can work with these vendors, then we can continue to progress and bring new capability into the system.”

McCarthy said a lot of critics are going to be watching to see if the Army made the right bets and if it moved too quickly in its process. McCarthy said it will be the leadership’s responsibility to buy time to work through problem sets.

“Over time I think we are going to have a lot of success with this,” McCarthy said. “We’ve worked very hard on the requirements for these prototypes. The 2021 budget deal will have the funding required to keep those production lines moving to create these prototypes. We will test them in the field very rigorously and that’s going to be the window where we will see an opportunity to buy low-rate initial production and start testing them in units.”

The 31 systems the Army is counting on for modernization will take up 80% of its science and technology budget, and by 2025 will take up more than half of the Army’s procurement budget toward signature systems. Over the next five years, $50 billion will open up in new business opportunities around those systems.

The weapons are based on the six portfolio items prioritized by Futures Command, which include Future Vertical Lift, networks and soldier lethality.

McCarthy said some of the systems in those portfolios will hit critical benchmarks in the next two years.

For example, in the long-range precision fires portfolio, the extended range cannon artillery will need an auto-loader in the next 18 months.

“We’ve increased the range, but need to increase the rate of fire,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said with the precision strike missile that the test will be hitting a target 550 km away and adding a sensor payload to allow it to take on maritime targets.

The Army will be testing hypersonic weapons in 2020 and will want to be able to hit targets with that as well in its testing.

McCarthy said the Army will be getting proposals for the optionally manned fighting vehicle this fall to start making prototypes.

“Things are moving very quickly and there will be a potential for setbacks,” McCarthy said. “We are going to have to do our best to stay with them and adjust and buy them the time to get through it.”

Funding

Money for 2020 and beyond is looking more stable with the budget deal, but the potential for a continuing resolution is still on the horizon.

McCarthy said that would be devastating to this important period for the Army.

“The challenges of continuing resolutions is they come back on to the system,” McCarthy said. “Continuing resolutions create uncertainty and conservatism. In the business world, the fluctuation prevents them from investing. They slow their production lines. It creates mass confusion.”

The Army has gotten bumps in its budget for the last three years and if the 2020 and 2021 appropriations bills pass that trend will continue.

But McCarthy said the Army will continue to need increased investments through 2026 to modernize.

He said the Army’s buying power will reduce if the budget remains flat. The Army has been going through what it calls “night court” where it goes over each of its programs every year and cuts legacy systems it doesn’t need. That may be one way the service can continue to keep its buying power if budgets don’t increase in the out years.

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