We must plant the seeds now that will secure the Army’s future
To prepare the Army for tomorrow, the seeds must be planted today, according to Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
"We’re navigating a very challenging period for our Army – the drawdown [of] forces is occurring during a period of dramatic fiscal constraints and budget pressure," Shyu said.
Adding, "We’re leveraging this period to make the best investments possible, planting the seeds that will secure the Army of the future. Our predecessors faced similar challenges following previous conflicts. It’s now our time. Our goal is to provide our soldiers the best capability possible. They deserve nothing less."
Shyu addressed attendees at the Association of the United States Army’s Winter Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Ala., on the topic of Army modernization in a constrained fiscal environment, which included the "strategy on leveraging the current drawdown to plant the seeds for the Army of the future."
Shyu likened the Army’s strategy to a five-layer pyramid, starting with divestment as the base, followed by reset and sustainment, modernization of existing platforms, development of new capabilities and science and technology, a "focus on the development of next generation breakthrough technologies that define the Army of the future."
Finding the right way to allocate dollars to that strategy will be a challenge for Army leaders.
Historically, defense spending increases during wartime, as evidenced by the Vietnam era when it peaked at 49 percent of the federal budget, and 30 percent during the Cold War.
As wartime draws down, so does the defense budget.
Falling 51 percent following the Korean War, according to Shyu, and 25 percent after the Vietnam War, by 1999, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and successful completion of Desert Storm, defense spending accounted for only 17 percent of the federal budget.
"As we drawdown in Afghanistan, we can expect our budget to continue to decline," Shyu said.
Within research, development and acquisition (RDA), that decline translates to a budget loss of $10 billion for this fiscal year, Shyu said.
Of all the portfolios that comprise RDA, three account for more than half of the budget – aviation, mission command and ground systems.
"Budget pressures mean that the squeeze will be felt harder in these larger portfolios. We have had to make difficult decisions about our priorities," Shyu said.
But while the budget declines – since the height of fiscal year 2010 it has already seen a 21 percent drop – Army readiness must not, Shyu said.
Pointing to the end of the Vietnam era as an example, Shyu referenced the Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Black Hawk utility helicopter and Apache attack helicopter, which all saw an initial investment following the Vietnam War during a similar time of budget decline. All became key to the Army’s victory during Operation Desert Storm years later.
"There’s a saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago," Shyu said.
She added, "The second best time is today. Come to the next contingency, we realized that the best time for us to have planted our seed was at the end of the last conflict, and that’s exactly where we are today, at the tail end of conflict.
"We’re in a period of planting seeds that will sprout for the next contingency, wherever it may be."