Army Had Something to Crow About, But Chose Not to

By Stew Magnuson

Photo illustration, Defense Dept. photo

“As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” —Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense, Kuwait, Dec. 8, 2004.

It’s hard to believe for us older folks that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld uttered those infamous words almost 19 years ago.

It was in response to an Army specialist serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom who said his company was armoring its Humvees with broken ballistic glass and scrap metal, then driving them up north to face the roadside bomb threat.

“You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee, and it can be blown up,” was the rest of the quote.
Rumsfeld was pilloried for what was interpreted as callousness, and rightly so.

Yet, both statements are completely true.

The magazine’s publisher, the National Defense Industrial Association, was founded in 1919 as the Army Ordnance Association on the principle of “preparedness.” If the nation sends its sons and daughters off to war, they should have the very best equipment available.

It was in the spirit of that, and the first part of Rumsfeld’s quote, why National Defense in its October issue took an in-depth look at 24 technologies the Army vowed to field or put into testing by Oct. 1, 2023.

The 24 technologies were singled out in October 2021 by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville at the Association of the United States Army’s annual Dwight D. Eisenhower luncheon.

The Army had a list of 35 key modernization technologies and the service would show that it would “put in the hands of soldiers” 24 of them by the end of fiscal year 2023, he said.
At the same lunch a year later, McConville reiterated the “24-by-23” vow and used the words “field” and “test.”

The magazine, leading up to the deadline, sought to find out how far along the Army progressed on the acquisition timeline and gave a letter grade to each program, and called it the “Army Report Card.”

To receive an “A-plus,” we decided the technology had to be fielded to enough soldiers to where it could make a real impact if the Army were called to war on Oct. 1.

Why? Because “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

An academic question? Hardly.

During the two years since McConville’s vow, Russia invaded Ukraine, and was told afterwards that if it invaded one inch of NATO territory, the organization would join the war.

Six days after the Oct. 1 deadline, Hamas terrorists invaded close U.S. ally Israel, killing Israeli and American civilians and taking hostages. As this is written, it is an open question as to how involved the United States will become in the conflict.

As the Defense Department prepared for the Second Gulf War, it knew about improvised explosive devices and landmines, but the troops went to war with inadequate armor and withered electronic warfare capabilities.

Fast forward two decades later, and the new threat is loitering munitions — also known as kamikaze drones — and everyone from the secretary of defense to the newest private first class knows about them.

The Pentagon has created a joint office looking at the problem, all four services have acquired at least some off-the-shelf defensive capabilities, and there are scores of businesses large and small offering counter-drone products.

The Army had three systems on the list capable of destroying small drones: the Iron Dome, Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense and Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense. The first two have been fielded and the third is close.

Would these and other systems be adequate if the Army went to war tomorrow? We hope to not find out the hard way.

Overall, Army acquisitions received 12 “A” grades out of 24 in the assessment, although our reporting found that one of the technologies, the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular, was widely fielded before McConville’s vow — maybe a bit of shenanigans on the Army’s part.

One program received a “D” grade, and four of the technologies received “C” grades, which was “passing.” However, few parents are happy when their children bring home a “C-minus” on their report cards — and the Army shouldn’t be satisfied, either.

The magazine, by the way, found the Army very cooperative when it came to interviewing senior officials about the 24-by-23 promise. Army Futures Command leader Gen. James Rainey, Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo and Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, seemed glad to bring attention to the technologies and were generally pleased with the progress the service has made rapidly fielding new capabilities.

But curiously, two years later, hardly a word was mentioned about the 24 technologies at the three-day Association of the United States Army conference, where the vow was first made.

McConville had since retired, and his replacement, Gen. Randy George, did not mention the initiative at the Eisenhower luncheon at all.

The only senior leader to bring it up was Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, but only after being prompted by a reporter at a press conference. (See story page 11.)

It’s too bad. The Army did fall short of fielding all 24 technologies, but overall, did quite well and that was worth crowing about. ND

Topics: Acquisition, Emerging Technologies