Speed Required in Acquisition Efforts

Speed Required in Acquisition Efforts

Global force panel
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

Speed, agility and partnerships with industry are critical to the Army’s success as it transforms the force for the future, a panel of experts said during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We have to be able to react at a speed that paces the threat, and that includes in acquisition,” said Douglas Bush, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology. Congress has helped, he said, by giving the Army various authorities to “go much more quickly when we need to.”

The March 28 panel discussion, focused on materiel modernization for the Army of 2040, examined how the service can deliver the leap-ahead capabilities it needs to fight on a complex future battlefield.

The new authorities granted to the Army, as well as Army leaders’ focus on the service’s modernization priorities, are critical, said Alexis Lasselle Ross, president of Apex Defense Strategies who previously served as deputy assistant Army secretary for strategic acquisition reform.

“I think systemic advancements are always very hard, and you cannot make progress without momentum,” she said. “I’m very encouraged to see Army leadership remains committed … [and] I’m hopeful that the agile acquisition framework and the authorities that are in place will remain there.”

One element the Army is working hard on is digital transformation, said Jennifer Swanson, deputy assistant Army secretary for data, engineering and software. “It’s important because in order for us to beat near-peer adversaries, we need to be able to quickly deliver capabilities into soldiers’ hands, and we need to be able to evolve those capabilities in real-time,” she said. “Digital transformation is the method to get after that.”

This effort includes agile software development, Swanson said. “Almost all of our systems are driven by software, and we’re getting after that quickly by pivoting to modern software practices,” she said.

To get there, the Army needs industry’s help, from new ideas to best practices, Swanson said. “We are very serious about digital transformation, but we absolutely cannot do it without you,” she said.

While the fiscal 2024 budget preserved the Army’s ability to conduct operations, maintain facilities and move ahead on its modernization programs, the service likely will face more budget challenges in the out years, said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation.

“The Army has gotten out of the habit of thinking about how do you fund big programs,” Spoehr said, adding that the last time it did so was in the 1980s, when items such as the Abrams tank were being fielded.

“These new-build acquisition costs are going to be tremendous,” Spoehr said, referring to big-ticket items like the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft. “If the Army continues to receive flat budgets, I’m pessimistic about how that works,” he said.

The defense industrial base also will feel the crunch, said John Defourneaux, chief technical officer of Axient. “The industrial base is going to see a very large push to produce all the things that the Army is working to get to the field to the warfighter of 2030,” he said.