Odierno: Service Chiefs Need Bigger Role in Acquisition
Currently “you influence the acquisition process, priorities, funding, decisions … by your personality,” he told reporters April 1 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s global force symposium and exposition. “You have no authority, and I’d like to see us actually get authority in those areas.”
“I think that would help us in the development of the acquisition corps and other areas,” he added.
The Pentagon has a unique opportunity to enact acquisition reforms, as the chairs of the Senate and House Armed Service committees — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas — are both passionate advocates of the topic, he said. With budget pressures constraining the Army’s modernization plans, changes to the acquisition process are even more important.
One priority should be to reduce bureaucracy so that cutting-edge technologies can be fielded more quickly, Odierno said. Another area he’d like to see improved is testing. Although independent testing is invaluable, too much money is being spent and the process could be streamlined.
During a speech at the conference, Odierno reflected on the challenges impacting the Army, including the advance of the Islamic State, Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese military modernization. In the face of those threats, the Army is downsizing its force and slashing its investments in modernization programs.
Sequestration would put in question whether the U.S. military could meet its commitments to allies, he said. In short, “it limits our strategic flexibility and it requires us to hope that we can predict the future accurately, something we’ve never been able to do."
Congressional defense hawks hope to boost military spending by adding funds to the Overseas Contingency Operations account to compensate for capped spending in the base budget. But even if Congress and President Obama approve the plan, it’s not sustainable for government to fund multi-year military expenses through a funding stream meant to support wartime needs, Odierno said.
“All we’re doing is delaying the inevitable, which I’m worried about,” he said. “We have to recognize that we’re going to have costs in our base budget, so I’d much rather see it inside of our base.”
That being said, having OCO money is better than not having it at all, he added. “I will take whatever dollars I can get because anything I can do to increase the readiness and our modernization accounts will be very helpful to us.”
Despite budget pressures, the Army is looking at future needs in its vehicle fleet and elsewhere, Odierno said. The service wants vehicles that are more mobile, survivable and lethal. It’s looking at everything from increasing the firepower of a Stryker to developing a future infantry fighting vehicle that can operate autonomously.
“I think, for our light forces, we need to be a bit more mobile when we hit the ground, so we need a light capability that enables them to move around very quickly,” he said.
Whether that means the Army is on its way to approving a requirement for an ultra light tactical vehicle is still unclear. Officials from the Maneuver Center of Excellence in Fort Benning, Georgia, have advocated buying a ULCV to fill a capability gap for a fast, highly mobile way of inserting troops. The Army in 2014 conducted demonstrations of existing, off-the-shelf vehicles and found that multiple vendors had products that met the service’s needs.
"TRADOC is working their way through” the decision of whether to acquire an ultra light tactical vehicle, Odierno said. "The problem right now is we're somewhat limited on what we can buy because of the budget issue, but we'll have to look to see if we have to reprioritize, and that will be one of the decisions we have to make in the near future."