Army Combat Developments Command: A Way to Modernize Better and Faster than the Competition
The technological overmatch that the U.S. military once enjoyed over potential peer adversaries has waned since the turn of the century, and it continues to do so. Based on a comparative assessment of the U.S. and Chinese militaries from 1996–2017, a contemporary RAND study reports that “the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has transformed itself from a large but antiquated force into a capable, modern military. In many areas, its technology and skill levels lag behind those of the United States, but it has narrowed the gap.” In the U.S. Army’s case, this gap in technological superiority has narrowed largely due to agility challenges within the service’s modernization enterprise. To foster clarity, this study defines agility—with respect to modernization—as the capability and capacity of the Army modernization enterprise to rapidly and cost-effectively transition concepts and ideas into high-performing fielded capabilities using nimble process mechanisms and more flexible oversight.
This study highlights and uses historic lessons from the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command (USACDC, 1962–1974) to argue that creating a present-day USACDC would significantly boost the agility of the Army’s modernization enterprise in synergy with its ongoing modernization efforts—most notably the creation of Army Futures Command as announced in October 2017. The study answers the following question: how could the activation of an Army Combat Developments Command—one that combines elements of Army Futures, concept development, requirements generation, acquisition (early prototyping) and field experimentation—help the Army to modernize better and faster than potential peer adversaries before a conflict (peacetime modernization) and during a conflict (wartime adaptation)? The activation of an Army Combat Developments Command would help the Army to achieve all of this. Using the broad rubrics of peacetime modernization and wartime adaptation as units of analysis, this study shows the potential utility of a contemporary USACDC.