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Army ‘can no longer afford’ the best equipment for soldiers

Friday, April 01, 2016

An "unintended consequence" of tight defense budgets is accepting that the Army "can no longer afford to equip and sustain the force with the most modern equipment," Army acquisition officials warned Congress in early March.

The net result, they said, is a risk of "falling behind near-peers in critical areas."

"We are forced to selectively modernize equipment to counter our adversary’s most significant technological advances," Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson and Lt. Gen. John M. Murray said in a joint statement to the House Armed Services Committee.

Williamson is the principal military deputy to the assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, and also the Army’s director for acquisition career management.

Murray is the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-8.

Both men testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel about the Army’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for ground force modernization.

The proposal seeks $15.1 billion for procurement and $7.5 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation. The combined $22.6 billion represents a $1.4 billion drop from the FY 2016 budget.

For aviation, the budget prioritizes modernization of Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopter fleets.

For combat vehicles, one of the top priorities is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program that partners the Army with the Marine Corp.

The JLTV procurement request for 2017 is $587 million, well over double the $250 million budget approved for that program this fiscal year.

Other priorities include modernizing Abrams tanks, Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and Paladin self-propelled howitzers.

Murray made a point during the hearing of highlighting current lethality enhancements to the Stryker fleet.

The Army plans to equip half the Stryker fleet with 30 mm cannons, which Murray said will give those vehicles "incredible capability … to address lightly armored, lightly skinned [enemy] vehicles, but also tremendous capability to engage the enemy in the open and at range."

Improvements in soldier gear also remain a procurement priority, especially in improving performance while reducing weight of individual equipment. Research continues on new load-bearing systems to reduce stress on backs and knees, Williamson and Murray said.

"The Army is also working to reduce the weight of the clothing and equipment soldiers carry by developing lighter body armor, helmets and other equipment while addressing a wide-range of threats to our soldiers including ballistics, blast overpressure, concealment, fragmentation and heat," they said in their joint statement.

Improvements in personal protection is another priority, with work underway on a new helmet concept, new eyewear that adjusts to changing light levels, a new combat vest, and sensors to monitor health status.

"Other services man equipment," Williamson said. "The Army equips soldiers."

Added Murray: "The one thing none of us can afford to do is get up in morning and look ourselves in mirror and say we could have prepared our soldiers better."