All Eyes on Army Acquisitions

By Stew Magnuson
Army poster highlighting Next Generation Combat Vehicles

Army illustration

Last month’s “Editor’s Notes” column looked at the Army Software Factory in Austin, Texas, which has had some success in its first year developing applications soldiers are using for a variety of purposes.

It was a “good news” story for the Army and the magazine was happy to print it. It’s just as import to report about programs that are going right as the ones that are going sideways — or the “bad news.”

When it comes to writing about military acquisitions there is rarely a lot of good news to report, even more so for the Army.

It’s not as if the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps haven’t had their share of high-profile failures that cost taxpayers millions. It’s just that Army’s reputation for acquisition failures tops the others.

Perhaps knowing this, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville declared at two major defense conferences last fall that the service would deliver 24 new technologies — all aligned with its modernization goals — by fiscal year 2023. Let’s call it the 24x23 campaign.

The programs came from a larger list known as the 31+4 priorities, which are 31 technologies being developed by Army Futures Command and four from the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

Considering the Army’s checkered acquisition reputation, McConville’s promise may have been the bravest declaration publicly spoken by an Army general outside of a battle zone in modern times.

And the Army requires bold moves to restore its reputation.

The cancelation of the Comanche helicopter program in 2004 and Future Combat Systems in 2009 are two often-cited colossal failures, but what came afterwards only entrenched the Army’s poor reputation for completing acquisition programs. Years later, soldiers are still waiting for the follow-on Kiowa-replacement that came out of Comanche and the new ground combat vehicle that emerged from FCS.

The Army received accolades for one program that delivered what it promised: the joint light tactical vehicle. But good news stories for the Army such as the JLTV are rare.

One solution to the Army’s acquisition woes was to create Futures Command.

In a larger context, the Air Force and the Navy have their own big-ticket modernization goals and compete with the Army in the yearly budget battles for funding.

China is the pacing threat, so what is the land force’s role in the Indo-Pacific, critics have asked.

The answer should be obvious: the Korean Peninsula, but that’s a topic for another column.

Putting McConville’s bold declaration in the context of a service looking for a role to play in the Indo-Pacific makes delivering on 24x23 all the more vital for the Army as it fends for itself in Congress for funding.

Absent from the initial declarations was a list of the exact technologies the Army expected to “deliver,” which, by the way, is a vague word in the world of acquisition.

However, our colleagues over at Breaking Defense pried the list from the Army, and it’s on its website for all to see.

There are a few big-ticket items: the precision strike missile, long-range hypersonic weapon and the robotic combat vehicle, for example.

One can presume these new technologies are not listed arbitrarily and the Army has done its due diligence to determine that there is a good chance they are far enough along in their development to make its self-imposed deadline.

It took one step toward knocking a major item off the list in April when it awarded a contract for the next-generation squad weapon.

Karen Saunders, program executive officer for simulation, training and instrumentation, said at an industry trade show in April that the Army’s Synthetic Training Systems — originally slated to be fielded in 2028 — now has a deadline of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024.

The order to accelerate the delivery date came down from the Army Requirements Council and the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Joseph M. Martin, she said.

The Synthetic Training Environment is part of the 31+4 list, but it’s just one example of the pressure PEOs are under to deliver the goods in a timely fashion.

While the magazine would rather report success rather than bad news for the 24x23 promise, it and other members of the trade press will be listening closely to Army leaders to see if there are any indications that they plan to back off on their promises, or if any of the items fall off the list.

That would make news, but not the kind of news the Army wants.

Perceptions will also have a lot to do with the success of the campaign. If the Army “delivers” 20 of the 24 items, is that at least a passing grade?

And what exactly is its definition of “delivers?” There are many milestones in the acquisition process. Is this initial operating capability or first unit equipped?

If test and evaluation processes are shortchanged — and what is delivered doesn’t work as advertised — that would be a public relations catastrophe for the Army.

At the end of the day, the magazine would rather report a “good news” story: the Army delivered 24 new technologies to soldiers that will give them an overwhelming edge on the battlefield.

Topics: Defense Department

Comments (4)

Re: All Eyes on Army Acquisitions

The 6.8mm NGSW is an example of the Army ramming a system through despite obvious flaws. The infantry weapon weighs as much as the M249 SAW fully loaded with the scope. We won't have common ammunition with our NATO allies if a major conflict happens. It is a good example of government waste.

Edward Randall at 7:57 AM
Re: All Eyes on Army Acquisitions

In case anyone is looking for the list: https://breakingdefense.com/2021/12/heres-the-armys-24-programs-in-soldiers-hands-by-2023/

James F McLaughlin at 10:34 AM
Re: All Eyes on Army Acquisitions

The Army had been the worst, but the Navy has long since won that award, with a host of ways to either A. Hose up a very promising beast of a ship in the Zumwalt class, constantly watering down and changing reqs and wasting what should have been a stealthy next gen destroyer B. Buying not one but two Corvettes that in the end now both have major issues and have potentially shown they will have built 32+ dogs of a ship C. Let's build ships with no set purposes, such as our fast transport based on Spearfish or the Chesty Puller class ships, which in fairness both have some use, it would be nice though if they had known WHAT use prior to continually building them and C. retiring ships either too early and meanwhile complain about ship deficits. Yes, Army had been there, but Navy is at the point they need to build a minimum amount, fully revitalize taking care of the fleet and then building it after successfully showing in the next handful of years they can take care of it.

kevthepope at 10:46 PM
Re: All Eyes on Army Acquisitions

Indeed, the US Army has made achievements lately because the acquisitions actually WORK pretty much as advertised. The 6.8mm NGSW, the MRZR, the JLTV, Iron Dome, new thermal and low-light combo NVGs, lasers, 30mm Stryker Dragoon, Javelin ATGM, AMPV, Excalibur GPS shell, Loitering Munitions, drones, Blade C-UAS, etc.

The thorough testing of these prototypes with soldier feedback have finally paid off and I believe if these were fielded in Afghanistan, they would have made a difference much sooner.

With China as the pacing threat, the goal of fielding systems that actually work is vital to maintaining the edge.

Trisaw at 12:09 PM
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