TRADOC Commander to Army Acquisition: Buy Capabilities, Not Things
By Valerie Insinna
Gen. David Perkins
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — The Army is venturing into a rapidly changing and unknowable future,and will need to invest in capabilities that help it seize advantages over its enemies, the commanding general of U.S. Training and Doctrine Command said March 31.
That may require a change in the way the Army acquires technologies, said Gen. David Perkins during a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army’s global force symposium and exposition.
The focus of acquisition should be building capability to win, not simply buying a desired thing, he said. That philosophy is based in the Army’s new operating concept, “Win in a Complex World,” which was released last year. Winning, according to that vision, means always being one step ahead of your adversary, Perkins said.
“You always have to be moving forward. You have to always be repositioning yourself because the world is very complex,” he said. “Whatever position you have today — even if it's a position of advantage — it’s just a matter of time before it comes a position of disadvantage or, at best, neutral."
Of course, the Army still wants to buy new platforms and equipment, he added. But that should be based on a strategy to build a capability.
Army leaders, headed by Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn and Undersecretary Brad Carson, are working to update AR 71-9, an acquisition regulation that prescribes policy for commands and agencies that determine the required warfighting capabilities, Perkins said.
In particular, theArmy staff is looking at how those regulations define risk in regard to requirements. “Sometimes we measure risk by saying, ‘Here is this fairly large and cumbersome set of requirements, and if I don't meet all the requirements I have tactical risk on the battlefield,’” he said. Other risks include requirements that are technologically infeasible or if it is too expensive to build in aggregate time or quantity.
Perkins said a more holistic view is needed that includes asking, “What is ... making this thing so difficult to produce, to maintain, to buy?"
Another problem with the current requirements process is it evaluates technology based on key performance parameters, not what capabilities it brings to the battlefield. “We sort of lost sight of the bigger picture,” he said.
Mandatory budget cuts, however, have the potential of derailing the service leaders’ vision of a future Army, said Lt. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, deputy chief of staff for the Army G-8.
The president’s fiscal year 2016 budget allots the resources necessary for the service to enhance readiness and modernization efforts, but “without an investment in the future, we will certainly at some point in time see aging fleets, eroding over match, higher sustainment costs and risks to our force,” he said during a panel.
The service is already experiencing some negative effects, he said.
"The Army's total operating authority is down significantly over the past several years,” he said. “The brunt of this has occurred in our research, development and acquisition accounts."
Given the current budget constraints, the Army must divest capabilities, reset and sustain equipment and upgrade existing platforms that will be in use for the forseeble future, Ierardi said. At the same time, it is investing in developmental programs like the joint light tactical vehicle and preserving science and technology funding as much as it is able.
The Army is making hard decisions about budget priorities in the hopes of retaining an advantage over its adversaries, Perkins said. "We're not avoiding risk to prevent defeat or failure, we're minimizing and making prudent risks so that we can exploit some opportunities that come along.
The Army needs to provide multiple dilemmas to its adversaries because they are adaptable and will avoid engaging U.S. strengths, he said. Further, an enemy force could exploit Army strengths to bring about its own ends. An example can be seen in the tactics of the Islamic State, Perkins said.
“If I’m ISIL in Mosul in northern Iraq, I’ll say, ‘You know what, if I start cutting people’s heads off, I bet the U.S. is going to come target me, because that’s what they do,’” he said. ISIL could then buy or steal cheap pickup trucks and position suicide bombers in there, compelling the United States to target it with expensive weaponry.
“That pickup truck did not have a chance against a [joint direct attack munition] or whatever was dropped on it, so on a tactical level, we won that firefight,” he said. “But how much money did ISIL have invested in that? … We may have won the tactical fire fight, but in the economic exchange ratio, you could say that the enemy is winning that strategic battle.”
David Johnson, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corp., said it’s those middle end, state-sponsored actors like ISIL and Hezbollah that pose the greatest risk to the Army.
“We haven't fought this kind of adversary since the Vietnam War, and I believe that we have capability gaps that need to be addressed if we're going to be able to effectively win against this kind of adversary," he said during a panel.
The Army needs to "mine the middle" for counter fire systems that find and destroy rockets at ranges up to 90 kilometers, as well as look for existing technologies to protect against rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, he said.
The service must “be able to execute highly integrated joint combined arms fire maneuver to defeat standoff so we can get into the close fight that we've been used to operating in for the last 13 years,” he said. It should also think about unmanned aircraft and how the enemy could employ such systems to the disadvantage of U.S. troops.