McConville: Army Moving Quickly on Modernization

McConville: Army Moving Quickly on Modernization

Soldier training with IVAS
Photo by: U.S. Army/Courtney Bacon

The Army’s new approach to acquiring the systems it needs to modernize is “pretty quick” compared to the cumbersome, yearslong process of the past, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.

With 34 major modernization systems coming to bear as part of the Army’s transformation through 2040, of which 24 systems are on track to be fielded or in prototype “in the hands of soldiers” this year, the Army has been able to streamline its process by having industry present ideas on paper first, McConville said.

“It’s a lot easier to do things on PowerPoint and paper than actually build this stuff,” McConville said March 21 during an event hosted by the Brookings Institution.

“We’re moving away from spending years trying to define the requirements and then [turning] it over to our project managers, and industry coming back in seven, 10 years with a product,” McConville said, adding that during that time, “technology has really changed, and the requirements are no longer relevant.”

In the new, streamlined process, the Army comes up with a requirement, and industry submits white papers, sometimes hundreds of them, he said, which are then whittled down to about 10 papers.

The companies selected then receive money to get to an initial design, “and we take a look at what industry says they can do,” McConville said.

The process allows for review and refinement along the way before an item goes into detailed design and prototyping, and it broadens the number of companies that want a crack at making the designs the Army needs.

“With prototyping, we’re able to drive or fly before we buy,” McConville said.

He used Future Vertical Lift as an example, where the Army is developing the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft to replace its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. “The two competitors are actually flying those things, and they are transformational in how they’re changing aircraft,” McConville said. “They’re not helicopters anymore, because one’s a tiltrotor configuration and one is the advancing blade concept, and it’s allowing them to get the speed and range.”

McConville acknowledged that there have been multiple delays with the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, which are goggles with a heads-up display that includes thermal and low-light sensors and target identification and acquisition aids. It was anticipated to have been in use by soldiers two years ago.

“We have to be patient” as the kinks are worked out, McConville said, because getting it right is critical, much as the Army has incrementally improved night vision goggles over the years.

“People just have to be persistent, and they have to be consistent and stay with it,” he said. “It's clunky right now, but what that is going to do is transform the way our leaders and soldiers can operate on the battlefield.”