Army Secretary nominee demands speed and readiness

The nominee for Army Secretary wants to speed up military buying and make it more accountable before the United States is passed by its adversaries in technology and readiness.

Eric Fanning
Eric Fanning

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 21, Eric Fanning told lawmakers one of his main priorities for the Army would be setting up a Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to expedite the fielding of critically needed weapons.

Along with acquisition goals, Fanning said the Army was not where it needed to be in terms of readiness and there are impediments keeping it from getting there.

Fanning worked with the Air Force’s RCO when it was set up. Its mission is to use Defense-wide technology development efforts and capabilities to quickly create much needed combat support and weapons systems. He wants to do the same for the Army.

“What we are seeing based on what is going on, on the ground now in Ukraine and Syria and so forth is that our overmatch is not as great as it should be, as it needs to be,” Fanning said. “Specifically positioning, navigation and timing; electronic warfare and cyber and then survivability of our platforms, particularly aviation. I see these as three great problem sets that we could launch in a new Rapid Capabilities Office.”

Fanning, who has worked for all three branches of the military, said he thought the acquisition reform provisions in the 2016 defense authorization act would benefit the Army.

The defense authorization act gives services chiefs and secretaries milestone decision authority over projects for the first time in three decades.

The decision authority will be transferred in 2017.

“Putting more responsibility in the military department is the right direction to move. It is easy for people to conflate the acquisition process and the requirements process. They are fundamentally linked, they overlap,” Fanning said. “Where I think there is the most potential [for military departments] is that requirements process, getting the requirements right to start and then at various points in the acquisition process being able to make those trade offs … a good program manager should have the opportunity to come back to the chief of staff or the service secretary and say ‘I can get this to you a year faster if you can cut 5 percent the requirement that you thought you set. I can meet that requirement in a different way. I can save money if we don’t chase this.’”

Fanning did not comment on the possibility of new acquisition reforms coming in the next defense authorization act.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry said he wanted to encourage more experimentation and prototyping in the acquisition process with the 2017 defense authorization act.

Fanning said readiness is his number one priority and that the Army has not improved in its readiness.

Fanning said about a third of the Army’s brigade combat teams are ready for a large event like a land fight against Russia or North Korea.

He added that there were impediments to the Army’s plan to increase readiness.

“The demand on the force, the size that it is makes it difficult to keep it trained,” Fanning said. “I do worry about the size of the Army today … two years ago [when we reduced the Army] to 450 [thousand troops] we didn’t have ISIL, we didn’t have as Russia’s provocative as it is, so I am concerned.

DoD directed the Army to shrink its number of active troops from 490,000 to 450,000 by 2018.

One thing affecting the Army’s readiness is the lack of training ranges due to cuts in military construction.

Military construction “really is becoming in my view a fundamental readiness issue for all of the services. … We need to make sure we are not mortgaging our future with the decisions we are making now,” Fanning said.

Lawmakers have been looking into how reduced infrastructure funding has affected the military services.

“The Army’s installations are the power projection platforms enabling readiness and ensuring deployable combat forces, but what we’re seeing is the personnel tempo and the operational tempo is increasing, because of our decrease in number of soldiers that we do have as we go to 490 [thousand] and then to 450 [thousand],” Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management Lt. Gen. David Halverson said during a Dec. 3 House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing.

Operational tempo refers to how often troops are deployed.

“We’ve taken risk as an army over the past 10 years by pushing our resources into the direct readiness area, which happens to be operations tempo, and taking risk on infrastructure and facilities,” Army Maj. Gen. Patrick White of G3 Operations U.S. Army Forces Command added during the same hearing.

Fanning also gave lawmakers a sneak peek on how he would deal with audit readiness. DoD originally planned to be audit ready by 2017, however, it has since said it will miss that deadline.

Fanning said audit readiness needs constant senior leadership committed to the goal. Fanning said he could be that person for the Army.

He added that the Army needs to create a series of work schedules and actually sticking to those schedules by holding people accountable.

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