SPECIAL REPORT: A Snapshot of 24 Programs the Army Promised to Expedite
Illustration with Army, iStock images
It was Oct. 12, 2021, at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., when former Army Chief of Staff. Gen. James McConville made a bold declaration. The service had identified a list of what it called the 31-plus-4 key technologies that it wanted to fast track for development.
“We will have 24 … of our 31-plus-4 signature systems in the hands of soldiers by” the end of fiscal year 2023, he said at the end of his annual keynote speech at the conference.
One year later, at the same conference and same keynote speech, he made the same declaration, but added the words “testing” and “fielding” to the goal.
“We remain on track with 24 in 23 — 24 signature systems in the hands of soldiers through fielding or testing in fiscal year ’23. We have been consistent, and we have been persistent, and we are getting it done,” he said in 2022.
Fiscal year 2023 comes to a close on Sept. 30, just a couple weeks before the Army convenes again for its annual conference in Washington.
National Defense — in this special report — takes a look at each of the 24 technologies to see exactly how far the programs progressed by the service’s self-imposed deadline and assigns each a letter grade — from A+ to F — to indicate how well it did.
First, it is important to look at the larger context of the general’s “24-by-23” declaration.
McConville, who has since retired, set the goal three years after Congress allowed the Army to establish Futures Command in Austin, Texas, and allotted some $30 billion for the service to pursue its modernization goals.
Its focus was on six top modernization priorities: long-range precision fires; Next-Generation Combat Vehicle; Future Vertical Lift; the network; air and missile defense; and soldier lethality, in that order of priority. Service leaders have for more than five years stuck to this list.
The Army had to show lawmakers and taxpayers that the service had turned a corner on acquisitions after years of underperformance. Failed programs — such as the Comanche helicopter and Future Combat Systems — cost billions of dollars and ended with little to show for the money spent. Multiple efforts to replace the Bradley combat vehicle and Kiowa scout helicopter also ended in failures, and requirements have gone unfulfilled for more than two decades. The Next-Generation Combat Vehicle and Future Vertical Lift programs on the priorities list were designed to show the Army was bearing down in delivering capabilities to soldiers.
Gen. James Rainey, chief of Army Futures Command, in an interview said McConville’s two-year deadline was not arbitrary considering the fast pace of technological disruption evidenced by the Ukraine conflict and the need to keep pace with competitors such as China.
“We need to be able to look at something happening in the world. And if [the technology] exists, we need to be able to translate that into capability inside our formations inside a couple year period — 18 to 24 months,” he said.
Meanwhile, Army leaders said they must not only modernize and build the Army of 2030, the service must also “transform.”
After documents such as the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy declared a strategic pivot to the Indo-Pacific, some experts questioned the Army’s role in a region that has traditionally been the domain of the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Prioritizing long-range fires, the network and air and missile defense were part of a new Army that could compete in the region.
McConville’s “24-by-23” goal — as it came to be known — was a declaration that the service had put its acquisition woes behind it and could keep up with rapid changes in military and commercial technology and deliver the “Army of 2030.”
Rainey and other senior Army leaders — asked to reflect on McConville’s goal and how well the Army performed — told National Defense that the service’s acquisition community has turned a corner.
“The Army is doing — in my opinion — incredibly well on modernization [and] on deliberate transformation for several reasons. One is consistency. We’ve had the same six priorities for over five years,” Rainey said.
Another reason is eliminating the so-called “requirements creep” that has plagued many military acquisition programs, not just the Army’s.
The problem begins when — in the middle of a program’s development — a new requirement comes along that necessitates changing the platform’s design. That often results in delays.
Rainey acknowledged that this is a delicate balance because sometimes a new threat comes along, or a new technology is introduced, that could be added to a program as it is in the throes of development.
Gabe Camarillo, undersecretary of the Army and its chief management officer, agreed that the Army reining in requirements is part of its recent successes fielding equipment faster.
“I think that that has given a lot of stability to our acquisition community and our developers and most importantly to the industrial base to be able to get after these problems,” he said.
It’s a stark contrast to when he last served in an Army leadership role a decade ago as the military was coming out of a budget crisis due to sequestration. The service has received steady funding over the Biden and Trump administrations, which has helped it achieve its modernization goals.
“I’m very encouraged by what we’ve seen in the Army the last few years in terms of our ability to deliver functional prototypes — in some cases to deliver fielded systems — and we’re making significant progress along all of these lines of effort,” he said in an interview.
It’s not all a bed of roses, and it never is when it comes to developing the novel technologies the Army requires, he noted. Luck has something to do with it.
“It’s never predictable to 100-degree certainty because you certainly know that there are going to be fits and starts in a developmental program. … It’s challenging. It’s hard. And if we’re getting after new requirements, there’s always going to be a fair amount of technical risk,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Army from the 24-by-23 list has “strung together a lot of wins” in the same fiscal year. Those include: the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
“Those are significant wins by themselves, but to string together a set of wins in one fiscal year begins to show that we have a lot of momentum, and I give a lot of credit to industry, and I give a lot of credit to our acquisition professionals for the hard work in getting to this point,” he said.
He also ascribed the change to Congress allowing the military to use new contract vehicles and authorities that are faster than the traditional acquisition system.
“One of the things that we’ve been able to do very effectively is to use all of the acquisition pathways and authorities that Congress has given us over the last five or six years to be able to achieve this momentum,” Camarillo said.
Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and the service’s acquisition executive, said McConville was encouraging speed, and in that regard, the 24-by-23 list “has quite a few success stories,” he said in an interview.
“Not everything is going to happen exactly on schedule with things this complicated,” he added.
The 24-by-23 list contained a wide swath of different technologies, Bush said. In some cases, the Army concentrated on getting operational prototypes to units. Others, like the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, used some of the new acquisition authorities to go faster than any previous rifle program, he noted.
The acquisition authorities created by Congress for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding, along with the Defense Department’s new Software Acquisition Pathway, have been instrumental in some of these programs being able to proceed much faster than under the traditional system, Bush added.
When asked to grade the service on accomplishing McConville’s “24-by-23” goal, the three leaders gave the acquisition community high marks.
Rainey said: “I would absolutely give ASALT Bush and his team an ‘A,’” noting that eight of the 24 technologies had reached initial operational capability or first unit fielded.
Camarillo gave the Army an A-minus.
“I think we always have room for improvement,” he said.
But the Army has built up momentum, and across all its portfolios — everything from ground vehicles, air and missile defense, aviation, the network and the others — are all delivering, he said.
“There’s just a lot of modernization happening, and I think it’s all coming together at just the right time,” Camarillo said.
Bush gave his team a “solid A-minus.”
“Not everything on this chart is going to happen exactly as we thought, but most will. … I think we’re at least at 90 percent in terms of hitting the mark that Gen. McConville laid down. I think that’s a good thing,” he said.
Topics: Army News