This is an interesting take on the future of modernization as we look towards post-election action from the current or a new administration. We are providing this for your information only, not an endorsement.
For the past four years, the U.S. Army’s modernization campaign has been driving forward at warp speed. Over this period, the Army has stood up a new major command, Army Futures Command. It has kickstarted 31 programs (plus two enabling capabilities) across six modernization priorities, each managed by a Cross-Functional Team (CFT). It has formulated a new operational concept called Multi-Domain Operations. Finally, it has demonstrated the ability to rapidly move programs from concept to initial fielding.
Despite all these successes, Army modernization now faces a day of reckoning. Regardless of who wins the November election, the flow of resources which has undergirded modernization is almost certain to decline. The Army’s leaders will have to conduct serious triage on its portfolios of priority modernization efforts. It will also have to revise its modernization strategy to achieve a better balance of upgrades and new starts.
From the very start, the Army’s modernization effort has been based on lofty goals. According to the 2019 Army Modernization Strategy, the objectives of modernization were to change “how we fight, what we fight with, and who we are.” Regarding fielding new capabilities, the Army did not want just a modernization: it sought a revolution. In the words of one of Army modernization’s principal architects, former Chief of Staff General Mark Milley:
I’m not interested in a linear progression into the future. That will end up in defeat on a future battlefield. If we think that if we just draw a straight line into the future and simply make incremental improvements to current systems, then we’re blowing smoke up our collective fourth point of contact . . . What I’m talking about is a significant—call it ’10x,’ call it ‘leap ahead,’ all those type of terms—a very significant, radical improvement in current capabilities.
This desire to eschew incremental improvements in favor of “leap ahead” technologies has positively and negatively impacted Army modernization. Positively, it has encouraged the Army to take risks and accept failures in pursuing new capabilities, to be more creative in how it thinks about modernization, and to place big resource bets on the future.
Indeed, in some respects, the Army’s modernization effort has been remarkably successful. AFC is up and running. The Long Range Protected Fires CFT appears on track to deploy both the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) and the Precision Strike Missile in the early 2020s. The Air and Missile Defense CFT has received the first of 144 Interim Mobile Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) systems. The Soldier Lethality CFT is making great progress on the Integrated Visualization Augmentation System. The recent Project Convergence exercise demonstrated the value of new networking, command and control, and battle management capabilities to integrate and enhance the performance of existing sensors and weapons, including space-based systems and aircraft such as the F-35.