Army chief says he’ll fix ‘ridiculous’ handgun acquisition

Emboldened by legislation that gives the military service chiefs a bigger role in the DoD acquisition process, Gen. Mark Milley said last week that he intends to “rip apart” the plodding procurement of a new service pistol for the Army, saying it’s “ridiculous” that what ought to have been a commercial off-the-shelf acquisition has dragged on for years.

Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, said his service will arrive at decisions within a matter of weeks on a...

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Emboldened by legislation that gives the military service chiefs a bigger role in the DoD acquisition process, Gen. Mark Milley said last week that he intends to “rip apart” the plodding procurement of a new service pistol for the Army, saying it’s “ridiculous” that what ought to have been a commercial off-the-shelf acquisition has dragged on for years.

Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, said his service will arrive at decisions within a matter of weeks on a new way forward for the Modular Handgun System, which has been in the works — formally, at least — since 2011. Thus far, the estimated $580 million procurement has involved a requirements document totaling more than 360 pages and a testing process slated to take two years in order to replace the 9mm Beretta pistol soldiers have been using since the mid-1980s.

“We’re going to deliver in short order,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee last Thursday. “We’re going to make it right for the soldiers and the taxpayer and make sure that we get a new handgun. The system’s been very frustrating in the sense of lots of paperwork, lots of bureaucracy, ridiculous amounts of time: two years of testing and $17 million to do a test. We’re just ripping that all apart and we’re going to make it better.”

Milley did not specify exactly how the Army would adjust this particular procurement, in which vendors were asked for their final proposals by Feb. 12.

But he’s repeatedly used the handgun acquisition to illustrate the argument that uniformed service chiefs need more authority to make procurement decisions.

As he told the New America Foundation’s Future of War Conference last month, somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and probably without meaning to be mathematically accurate):  “If you gave me $17 million on the credit card, I could call Cabela’s tonight and outfit every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, and I’d get a discount on it for a bulk buy. This is a pistol. The technology’s been around for five centuries, and arguably it’s the least important weapons system in the Department of Defense inventory.”

Beyond the handgun issue, Milley’s office has asked Congress for permission to bypass some of the current layers of DoD acquisition oversight that the Army’s uniformed officers view as excessive and duplicative. In public addresses and reports to Congress, officials have said they’d like to reduce the oversight role of Defense offices like the office of Developmental Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) and the office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), saying that the Army is perfectly capable of generating its own cost estimates, performing operational tests and conducting analyses of alternatives.

Those changes would be on top of the acquisition tweaks Congress approved in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which required the military service chiefs to sign off on major cost and schedule changes and giving them a larger role in developing the requirements for acquisition systems.

Army officials say they’ve wasted no time in putting those changes to use, including by revitalizing the Army Requirements Oversight Council. The board now meets once per week, and is personally chaired by Milley or Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army’s vice chief. It must sign off on every bell or whistle the Army’s procurement apparatus wants to add or subtract to or from a given system.

“There’s been an awful lot of sessions in the Army over the last six or eight weeks now. I’m probably not on a lot of people’s Christmas card list, but that’s all OK,” Milley said last week. “We’ve made this a commander-centric program because the United States military operates off commanders, not staff, and commanders will be held accountable. Commanders are going to generate requirements, and commanders will approve requirements.”

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