Wormuth: Army at Crossroads After ‘Extraordinary’ Year

Wormuth: Army at Crossroads After ‘Extraordinary’ Year

SecArmy Wormuth speaks at AUSA 2021
Photo by: Rod Lamkey for AUSA

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth didn’t sugarcoat the challenges facing the force. 

“Today’s Army must ask hard questions,” she said, including thinking about how and when enemies choose to fight, what that might mean for the future of landpower and how the Army can best contribute to multidomain operations. “I am not convinced that we have fully thought our way through all of the challenges we may face in the future,” she said.  

But she also expressed confidence in what the Army could do. “We aren’t just any Army. We are America’s Army,” she said Oct. 11 during a keynote speech at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition, held at the D.C. convention center. 

“Every year is a busy year for the Army, but this year was extraordinary,” she said, noting the major role played by troops in battling the COVID-19 health crisis, responding to natural disasters and completing the dangerous and risky withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. “We have a lot to be proud of, but we also have a lot of work to do,” she said. 

The Army is at a strategic crossroads, she said, facing expanding challenges at times of flat budgets. China and Russia “went to school” on U.S. counterinsurgency operations and the American way of war, and they are both “steadily modernizing their militaries, including building advanced space, cyber and disinformation capabilities.”  

This is a major concern, Wormuth 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 project 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 here on the United States itself.” 

Wormuth expressed confidence, saying, “We are up to the challenge if we move decisively.” 

“The future is a lot closer than some of us think,” she said. “Fortunately, the Army has not been standing still. Far from it. We are designing new formations to bring us into the future where you're innovating and experimenting. We are developing new weapons systems so that we remain the world's premier land force.” 

Today’s Army has substantially transformed how it modernizes and develops weapons while also focusing on soldier-centered design, she said. In fiscal year 2022, she expects to see prototypes of directed energy weapons and fielding of robotic combat vehicles. More weapons will appear in following years.  

“I am very proud of what the Army has accomplished, but we have so much more work ahead,” she said. “Change is hard when there is uncertainty about what the future will bring. 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.” 

“This means thinking even harder about how to deter and, if necessary, to fight high-end adversaries,” she said. In the short term, this means fighting with existing capabilities. In the future, that means fighting with advanced capabilities, upgraded operating concepts and a “realistic understanding of concepts.” 

Wormuth said, “We're going to have to make hard decisions and follow through on them, but the Army has never shied away from a fight. And I know we're not about to start now, so let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.” 

— Rick Maze