By By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief | November 5, 2014
Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and General Dennis Via, commanding general, Army Materiel Command were grilled by the media about the who’s and why’s of defense cutbacks at this year’s annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) gathering in Washington, D.C.
Shyu, who is often praised by Army individuals for ‘getting it’ regarding their needs, fought back with statistics that show how the Army’s acquisition base is declining by 33 percent over a five year period and how the only way forward is to divest the overall force of legacy equipment while retaining a focus on reset and sustainment. “We will be going to the next fight will be with the equipment that we have today,” said Shyu.
Make no mistake; gaps will appear in the overall defense portfolio, such as the well-discussed lack of a dedicated Armed Aerial Scout helicopter (AAS). The times of plenty have, for the foreseeable future, gone. The military is moving to an expeditionary role, which will be challenging. The retraining of troops and the resetting of equipment is a big burden in itself. Shyu laid out the challenge ahead: “We need to keep countering new and emerging threats. The Army has to be prepared to fight terrorism through to nation states and everything in between. We are looking at a stronger and lighter army, with better situational awareness simplified communications, but with a continued need for many capabilities.”
Where the OH-58D fleet and items such as 20,000 trucks have been divested, the S&T budget is still being ring-fenced at “$2.4 billion annually to produce the next generation of capabilities,” confirmed Shyu. The Joint Multi Role (JMR) is firmly set with Bell Helicopter and Boeing/Sikorsky set to fly their technology demonstrators in 2017. Even the losing bidders will not be left out of the funding, according to industry insiders at AUSA.
A key factor is that industry is having to dig deeper into its own finances to reach the nirvana that is promised when Future Vertical Lift (FVL - medium), the replacement of the Black Hawk and Apache fleets, starts Initial Operating Capability (IOC) around 2034 (a long 20 years into the fu-ture). But Shyu said that industry was onboard to the challenge and her regular meetings were leading to a solid and ongoing exchange of information about the Army’s developing requirements and how industry could respond.
Shyu assured her audience that “we will continue to modernize despite fiscal challenges.” However General Vie had a stern word of warning about the relatively dire effects of continued sequestration into 2016, saying that if it budgets continue to be cut then there will be “an enormous impact on the US Army. During the last 10 years we have invested heavily in S&T, but the edge that we have today will narrow with the proliferation of technology around the world over time.”
He also highlighted the logistic change in how the Army would be deployed: largely away from the big, slowly built up all-functioning bases that the military had got used to in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the need to establish lighter operational bases as part of their expeditionary capability, and the need to train units to be able to do that rather than arrive at a foreign location where everything was waiting for them.
A key point that politicians must remember when they are considering when, where and how to deploy on their forces when making foreign policy commitments is that the military will be less rounded than it was before. Not less professional or capable (as long as training continues to be funded), but not as big as it once was!