The Army has never shied away from a fight, and I know we are not about to start now,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in her keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition.
A career defense policy expert and civil servant, Wormuth said this is no time for standing still. “We have a lot to be proud of, but we also have a lot of work to do,” she said.
The first woman to serve as Army secretary became the service’s top civilian leader as the Army had already launched a critical modernization effort to close capability gaps with potential adversaries and transform the service into a fighting force for the future. She’s totally on board with the modernization plans.
“We are at an inflection point, a key moment in an incredibly consequential argument between autocrats and those who understand that democracy is the right way to meet the challenges of the 21st century. More than any other time in my professional life, we are at a strategic crossroads,” said Wormuth, whose national security career began 25 years ago, at the end of the Cold War and five years before the Afghanistan War began.
Things have changed, she said, and the potential threats remain high. While the U.S. was fighting terrorism and conducting counterterrorism operations, China and Russia have “steadily modernized their militaries, including building advanced space, cyber and disinformation capabilities,” she said.
This is a serious challenge, one that requires immediate attention, she said. “If deterrence fails, and either China or Russia makes the strategic mistake of threatening our vital interests with military aggression, we can no longer count on having months to inject combat power overseas from an uncontested homeland, nor can we count on quickly establishing air superiority so that our forces can precisely strike targets with relative impunity,” she said. “We could even face attacks on the United States itself.”
There is time to act, Wormuth said. “The stakes are high, but we are up to the challenge if we move decisively.”
“Change is hard when there’s uncertainty about what the future will bring, and there are no easy changes to make. I feel this pressure myself, but we can no longer defer the big decisions about how to forge the Army we need for the future,” she said.
The Army needs to be “thinking even harder” about preparing for “high-end adversaries,” Wormuth said, which requires finding both new ways of deterring aggression, if possible, and fighting if deterrence fails.
This entails an extensive list of things to do, Wormuth said. “It means networking and adapting our existing capabilities in innovative ways. Even as we invest in new systems, it means upgraded operational concepts drawn from rigorous analysis, study and exercises. It means a realistic understanding of our potential adversaries, their ideologies, their capabilities, and the geography, where we are most likely to meet them.”
This isn’t simple, she acknowledged. “Today’s Army must ask hard questions. How would our foes be likely to fight, with what capabilities [and] for what reasons? What does that mean for the future of land power? What are the implications for the Army of geography in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and how can the Army best contribute to the joint war fight?”
The Army clearly has been asking some of these questions, but Wormuth isn’t satisfied. “I am not convinced we have fully thought our way through all of the challenges we may face,” she said.
Her questions are tough, focused not just on capability gaps and unfunded priorities. Instead, she raises fundamental questions about how DoD and the Army make decisions. Bureaucratic infighting, reluctance to embrace new ways of doing things and “reflective skepticism of new ideas can be powerful roadblocks to progress,” she said.
“We need to be focused. We need to be strategic. We need to be bold,” she said. “We must face hard choices squarely even as we pursue our transformation agenda. We’re going to have to look hard at everything we do and everything about how we do it to inform these hard decisions.”
Wormuth expects careful analysis of force structure, readiness, infrastructure and modernization programs that will shape where the Army concentrates its resources. “This work will not be easy, but it is needed,” she said.
It is also an effort that contains risk. “Given the challenges ahead, we may have to accept some risks now to avoid greater risk in the future,” she warned.
A challenge for the Army and Congress will be shedding lower-priority programs to save money for the future. This is difficult because legacy systems have fans and supporters among Army users and lawmakers representing congressional districts where maintenance and parts are produced to keep those systems working. “The Army must ruthlessly prioritize its efforts to find a path to transformation,” she said.
Performance of developing programs will be a critical factor as the Army tries to stay on schedule and on budget, but she offered little insight because so many programs are just prototypes, making it difficult to weigh affordability. Future budgets will need to be shaped by what works and how much it costs.
In the future, the Army could be faced with reducing the number of soldiers as a cost-cutting measure, but Wormuth said she hasn’t made any decisions. “Everything that we do, and everything about how we do it,” is open for review, she said at a news conference following her keynote speech.
“We are looking at how can we be innovative, how can we do more with what we have, what kinds of force structure do we need to make sure that we are relevant for the future war fight, what that mix needs to be, what are the kinds of capabilities that that force structure needs to be effective,” she said.
“I think it is fair to say we are looking at everything,” Wormuth told reporters. “It is essential that we transform for the future, and the modernization program that we’ve embarked on is a critical piece of that transformation.”
Modernization is “incredibly important, so we will certainly be looking to protect that because it is so core to what we are doing,” she said.
This doesn’t mean ceding ground to the other services in areas where there is overlap. The Indo-Pacific, with vast expanses of air and sea, is a region with competing requirements from the Army and the other services, resulting in some discussions about trimming money from the Army to pay for space, cyber and other high-tech and expensive programs. Wormuth isn’t having it. “The Army has a crucial role to play as part of a joint force that can deter China, Russia and any other foe while defending the homeland,” she said, describing the fight over funding as a consequence of the “downward pressure on the defense budget.”
The secretary also pledged to make funding for personnel and quality-of-life programs a continued priority.
“The Army is, by nature, a people-centric service,” she said. “Our people truly are our most important system. We need to recruit and retain the very best and take good care of the outstanding people who wear the Army uniform.”
She also supports a diverse and inclusive force. “We welcome into our ranks any qualified American who wants to serve and who can make the grade. And we are committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. We expect a lot from everyone in our Army, and we ask a lot of our families too,” she said.
Supporting the Force
Those who serve rightfully have expectations that the Army needs to meet, she said. Efforts are underway to improve housing, she said, acknowledging “there is more work to do.” The Army is building more child development centers and expanding in-home care while also increasing pay for child care center workers, she added.
“Our Army is imperfect, but we shouldn’t lose sight of its profound importance,” she said, noting that the U.S. Army is listed before the U.S. Navy in the Constitution. “I cannot help but notice that we got top billing. However, we need to keep earning our place at the top.”
She is committed to reducing sexual harassment, sexual assault and racism in the Army. “Fundamentally, I think what is really needed is to focus on our command climate and make sure we have healthy command climates at all of our installations worldwide,” she said.
“To do that, we are doing a few different things,” including the “This is My Squad” initiative embraced by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston to form tighter bonds on teams. The goal, she said, is “making sure that our soldiers are looking after each other, that our leaders are looking after our soldiers, and trying to connect soldiers, leaders and families.” Assessment teams also are visiting units to improve cohesiveness, she said. In 2022, the Army hopes to have 12 cohesion assessment teams. “That will be an important tool,” in addition to command climate assessments, she said.
“We have to make sure we don’t take our eye off this ball,” Wormuth said. “This is something we are going to focus on year after year after year. It cannot just be sort of a cycle of crisis to complacency.’’
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McConville Reflects on Priorities
More than two years into his service as the 40th Army chief of staff, Gen. James McConville remains unwavering about what he thinks is most important.
“America’s Army and its people are transforming for the future,” he said in a keynote presentation during the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition.
“For me, people will always be the United States Army’s greatest strength and most important weapon system,” he said. “Putting people first means continuing to build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined and fit, that are ready to fight and win, and where each person is treated with dignity and respect.”
Additionally, “putting people first means aggressively getting after our quality-of-life priorities,” he said, referring to housing, health care, child care, spouse employment and permanent change-of-station moves. It also means expanding assessment programs so soldiers—officers and NCOs—are placed in jobs where they can excel.
“We are providing opportunities for soldiers to hone and employ their talents that benefit the Army most,” McConville said of the talent management efforts.
“The United States Army exists for one reason, to protect this great nation from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. We do this by being ready to fight and win the nation’s next wars as a member of the joint force,” he said during the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presentation, a longtime part of the AUSA Annual Meeting.
“This has been a uniquely challenging time for the Army, but each challenge and each crisis has only made us stronger,” McConville said. “Throughout it all, we have never wavered on our priorities: people, No. 1; readiness, No. 2; modernization, No. 3.”
Future battlefields will be hotly contested, McConville said, adding that he anticipates future fights will be “contested in every single domain.”
“If you look at the best combat units in history everywhere in the world, you’ll find individuals in small units who are masters of their craft,” he said. That’s what the Army is trying to produce, he said, a highly trained, disciplined, fit and cohesive force that “can fight and win.”
To achieve that, the Army will need more than talented soldiers. The Army is adjusting units to be regionally aligned with combatant commands, allowing them to specialize in the places where they’ll serve, he said. Adjustments also are being made to training and deployment cycles to give soldiers and units more time and predictability.
Transformation efforts focused on new or expanded capabilities will also make a big difference, he said. “The battlefield is becoming faster, it is becoming more lethal, it is becoming more distributed,” he said. To win, the Army needs to have dominance in capabilities and options to move faster, farther and smarter than its adversaries.
The Army is fielding prototypes of new capabilities, like the Extended Range Cannon Artillery system, and in 2023 will field ship-sinking hypersonic missiles and precision-strike missiles. Also coming are optionally manned fighting vehicles, new light tanks and future attack reconnaissance and long-range assault aircraft, as well as weapons and systems to improve the lethality of soldiers, he said.
“Overmatch will belong to the side that can make decisions faster,” McConville said. “We are transforming to provide the joint force with the speed, the range and the convergence of cutting-edge technologies.” —Staff Report