Deputy Secretary Gives Ringing Endorsement to Army’s Reform Efforts

By Stew Magnuson
Patrick Shanahan speaks at the 2018 AUSA conference

Photo: Defense Dept.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on the final day of the Army’s biggest conference of the year gave his seal of approval for the service’s efforts to improve readiness and to turn around its moribund efforts to modernize.

“When it comes to reform the Army is serious and focused. Instead of saying, ‘slow down,’ they are pushing to go faster,” he said at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Earlier in the conference, Army Secretary Mark Esper announced that the service had found $25 billion in savings over the next five budget cycles by going through accounts with a fine-toothed comb. Those that do not fit into the Army’s top six modernization priorities are vulnerable to cuts, said Esper, who was in the audience for the speech along with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Futures Command Commander Lt. Gen. John Murray.

The Army is “scrubbing each and every Army program to ruthlessly prioritize spending and invest in modernization. This is the kind of focus we need to see throughout the department,” Shanahan said.

“As pressing as the threat is, we will not be handed a blank check. Fiscal discipline and performance will determine whether we will be able to execute our strategy,” he said in his speech.

As far as this kind of budget discipline spreading to other services, Shanahan was later asked to contrast the Army’s efforts with the Air Force, which weeks earlier at the Air Force Association conference announced that it would need 74 new operational squadrons. But when Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was asked by the press how it could pay for such a large increase, as well as its modernization priorities, she had no answers.

“The contrast is that the Army is really clear on their six modernization priorities,” Shanahan said. Now that they have been identified, it is now looking at how to pay for them. The Air Force is not that far along in the process, he said.

Wilson has been looking extensively at how to restore readiness more quickly, he said. Her conclusion is that the Air Force’s force structure needs to grow. “What I heard [at the AFA show] is that ‘we need to grow.’ But then there is the due diligence that goes along with it because you have to be able to pay for these things.”

As for the Army, it must retool for great power competition, which is why modernization is so important, he said. “It’s time for us to get back in the weight room and back in the classroom. Some of our old playbooks will work, but we will have to deal with two new warfighting domains: cyber and space.”

He also endorsed the standing up this year of Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas, under the leadership of Murray.

“Kudos to the Army for retooling its traditional structure to create something new. That said, it will take more than a thoughtful organization design to succeed,” he said.

Shanahan drew upon his experience as a Boeing executive when billion-dollar Army programs such as the Future Combat Systems and Comanche helicopter were cancelled. He later suggested to reporters that Futures Command would benefit from hiring some of the former generals and program managers who lived through those difficult times. Getting the right personnel in place is Future Command’s next challenge, he said. It “can’t be their first rodeo.”

“A handful of people can determine the outcome,” he said in his speech. “They are more important than technology.”

He added: “We must be guided by what combination of man and technology generates the most lethality, never forgetting that man and technology are intertwined. This is not about developing the perfect weapon system, this is about delivering lethality to our soldiers as quickly as possible,” he said. That may mean leveraging existing new technologies in new ways and relying on soldiers to help inform requirements.

Shanahan also said the Army must make the acquisition system work for it. “We can’t use its deficiencies as an excuse. We must use our acquisition system to solve problems.”

For its part, Shanahan said the new command should look to the Defense Department as a supporting command. The new endeavor needs partners to ensure its success rather than “people standing on the sidelines pointing out the score, or when somebody has made a mistake.”


Topics: Army News, Land Forces, Defense Department

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