COVID-19 NEWS: Army Trying to Mitigate Disruptions for Top Modernization Programs

By Jon Harper
Northrop Grumman IBCS flight test

Northrop Grumman Image

The Army is putting mitigation strategies in place to keep its modernization efforts from going off the rails as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, acquisition officials said April 3.

The service’s highest priorities are: long-range precision fires; next-generation combat vehicles; future vertical lift; the network; air-and-missile defense; and soldier lethality.

A test of a Precision Strike Missile, which is part of the long-range precision strike portfolio, was slated for later this month. Additionally, a user evaluation of an integrated air-and-missile defense battle command system, or IBCS, was scheduled for May.

Gen. John “Mike” Murray, commanding officer of Army Futures Command, said the service is working through mitigation strategies to keep both of those events on track. However, moving ahead with the IBCS test poses challenges during a time of movement restrictions and social distancing.

“That involves the entire community … to include industry reps,” Murray told reporters during a teleconference. “I’m not ready to say today that either one of those are slipping. But those are closer in, and we’re working through to keep them on schedule as best as we possibly can. And if the analysis provides that we can’t, then … we may have to look at some concurrency” to enable the project to catch up with the original schedule, he added.

Meanwhile, testing of hypersonic weapons — which are expected to be a key part of the long-range fires arsenal in the future — has continued, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Bruce Jette noted. The Army and Navy last month completed a flight test of a hypersonic glide body from a site in Hawaii.

While some vehicle testing has been disrupted by the pandemic, it has not impacted the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program, Murray said. The project was recently rebooted after Army leaders decided the service needed to pursue a new approach to acquiring the next-generation combat vehicle. Because the program is in an early phase, work on it can be done in virtual environments, he added.

For future vertical lift, the Army last month awarded contracts to industry for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft and Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft projects. Those initiatives have not yet been disrupted, Murray said.

Likewise, network modernization efforts remain on track, he noted.

“We’re working a lot of that virtually right now because a lot of that is working through links and how all of that is going to work in systems tied together and architectures,” he said.

Among the high-priority modernization portfolios, air-and-missile defense is of greatest concern right now. Testing for the automotive component of the mobile short-range air-defense system, or M-SHORAD, has been temporarily put on hold, Murray said.

“It’s paused while we put mitigation measures in place, because when you run a lot of miles on any vehicle it’s going to require maintenance,” Murray said. Maintainers often have to work in close contact, which makes it difficult to maintain social distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“Making sure they’ve got the right tools to do their work safely is the reason for the short pause,” he explained.

The hold on M-SHORAD testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is happening as questions remain as to whether the upcoming IBCS test will happen on schedule.

“Not that I’m losing any sleep on either one of them at night, but … if I had to pick one of the modernization priorities, they’re closer in and those are the ones we’re working hardest to mitigate the impacts,” Murray said.

Meanwhile, there may be disruptions to soldier experimentation with the new Integrated Visual Augmentation System, depending on how long restrictive measures remain in place during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Murray. The system, also known as IVAS, includes high-tech goggles that are designed to provide troops with enhanced situational awareness on the battlefield.

“There may be an interruption to the soldier touch point this summer based on how long this goes,” he said. “We’re already thinking through contingencies about how to get that done later.”

Microsoft, the prime contractor for the program, has moved completely to teleworking. But the main concern is whether sub-tier suppliers will face obstacles to performing their work, he noted.

Jette said he is tracking all of the 800-plus acquisition programs that the Army is pursuing. His office has a COVID-19 task force that looks 30, 60 and 90 days out to try to identify potential problems, including with sub-tier suppliers, so that mitigation measures can be put in place.

“In general we are still remaining fairly close to being on track,” Jette said. “It doesn’t mean that [problems with] individual programs or individual issues haven’t arisen, but at this point … we think in the long run that we can resolve any of the challenges we have at hand.”


Topics: Army News

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