Future of Army Programs Obscured by Sequestration
The account has dropped 33 percent over the past five years, putting “significant pressure” on its ability to procure and field new weapons systems, Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, told reporters during a press conference at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting and exposition in Washington, D.C.
That pressure could get even worse if automatic spending cuts are reinstated in fiscal year 2016. But even though Army officials have informed Congress about the potential impact sequestration could have on its ability to provide troops with the technology and weapons systems they need, they are powerless to stop it, Shyu said.
“Every time I engage with Congress, I ask them to please stop the sequestration,” she said. “Unfortunately sequestration is the law of the land. Everybody I’ve talked to said, ‘Well, learn to live with it, because it’s here.’”
The result that programs are incredibly unstable because service and industry officials do not know how the budget will impact their ability to execute a program.
“You don’t know where you’re being slashed until the last minute, because we don’t know what our budget is going to be,” she said. “How do you plan your life if your salaries are unknown?”
With so much uncertainty, no program is safe, Shyu said. Even high-priority platforms such as the Army and Marine Corps’ joint light tactical vehicle are at risk of future budget cuts.
JLTV is “not currently being targeted. But we don't know how bad our cuts are going to be,” she said. “At this point, in the president's budget, it looks fine. But beyond that, I can't tell you. I can't guarantee anything because I have no idea what our budget's going to be."
Sequestration would have enormous impact on the entire service, including U.S. Army Materiel Command, said its commander Gen. Dennis Via. Army Materiel Command is responsible for maintaining the service’s depots and arsenals as well as operating its research-and-development laboratories.
During the last decade of war, the Army invested heavily in research and development, he said. “That technical overmatch and that edge that we have today, over time, will narrow with the proliferation of technology throughout the world.”
“We’ve got to continue to invest in modernization. The next platform that we require, the next piece of equipment that we issue to our soldiers — everything from the uniforms they wear to the weapons that they utilize to the platforms they fly in — we have to have [those programs] in place,” he said.
The return of sequestration would force the service to stretch out modernization programs, Shyu said. For example, there would be fewer vehicles slated for incremental upgrades every year, and the Army would have to purchase goods in lesser quantities.
“It is an incredibly inefficient way to do business, because when you buy less quantity of anything, guess what? Cost goes up,” she said.
The “ironic” truth, Shyu says, is that she would prefer a continuing resolution that extends the funding levels of the previous year rather than a current fiscal year budget.
“CR terms would be great because I could spend what I was authorized last year, right?” she said, laughing. “As opposed to this year, because inevitably my budget is going to be cut.”
In order to afford new platforms, the Army is eliminating aging systems, there by cutting operations and sustainment costs, Shyu said. The service has divested about 20,000 trucks, is reducing the number of aircraft variants in its fleet and will retire legacy helicopters such as the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and the TH-67 trainer.
The Army cannot fund all of its requirements, so the service is instead looking at ways to upgrade and improve the platforms it has, Via said.
“We’re doing what we can within the means that we have,” Via said. However, this increases the importance of the service’s science and technology funding, so “at some point in time when we begin to procure the next platforms, that we then have not lost this technical overmatch.”
The service spends about $2.4 billion annually on science and technology efforts, Shyu said.
Even though budgets are constrained, the Army continues to support programs to field new technology, Shyu said. One such program is the joint air-to-ground missile, which is entering its engineering, manufacturing and development phase.
The JAGM program started as a completely new missile, but sequestration forced the Army to limit the scope of the program to a new dual-mode or tri-mode front end, which would be outfitted onto the back end of a Lockheed Martin-produced Hellfire missile.
“We have had dialogue with three potential contenders,” she said.
Shyu contended that current modernization programs — such as a third-generation forward looking infrared system — offer a real leap ahead in capability. “I wouldn’t call it tinkering” with old platforms, she said. “I think we are modernizing.”
Still, some major new-start programs have had to be sacrificed because of sequestration, she said. Case in point is the ground combat vehicle, which remains a requirement. Shyu stressed that the Army did not want to make that decision.
“It wasn’t … that contractors failed to deliver. It was the fact that we had a budget cut so significant we had to give up billions of dollars,” she said. “When that happens, I could kill a hundred little programs and not have enough money. Some major program has to take the hit, unfortunately.”
Instead, the Army chose to invest in “critical enabling technology” that could be integrated into a next-generation ground vehicle with much greater capability than the GCV.