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US Army Futures Command Brass Face Tough Questions on Delivering Speedy Development

By Matt Beinart | September 14, 2018
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Senior Army officials during a Thursday House hearing said Futures Command’s success will be based on reducing the requirements for new capabilities down to 12 months and delivering next-generation platforms to soldiers in the battlefield within the next two years.

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services’ readiness subcommittee pressed Gen. John “Mike” Murray, head of Futures Command, and Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy on the metrics the command will need to meet to ensure the new modernization effort doesn’t falter in a similar fashion to previous attempts at acquisition reform.

Gen. Mike Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley unfurl the Army Futures Command flag during a ceremony, Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)

Gen. Mike Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley unfurl the Army Futures Command flag during a ceremony, Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

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“The Army has faced multiple challenges with its effort to modernize and rebuild the service’s full-spectrum readiness. Furthermore, the Army’s past attempts to change internal policies, command relationships and organizational structures in an effort to improve the acquisition process has met mixed results,” Rep. Madeleine Bordallo said during her opening remarks. “I think it’s fair to ask if the Army is, in fact, just creating more overhead that will further slow an already cumbersome process.”

Murray said the Austin, Texas-based Futures Command’s success will be measured by its ability to deliver on the Army’s six modernization priorities and reduce the requirements process with greater interaction with industry, specifically non-traditional partners.

“I can’t do miracles, so I’m not going to deliver you a new tank in two years. But what I do think you will see is some of the capabilities the Cross Functional Teams are working on will be in production and being delivered in the hands of soldiers in the next two years. Not all of them, but a couple key pieces of it,” Murray said during the hearing. “I’m currently working specific metrics in terms of the amount of time it takes us to deliver capability. But ultimately, like I said earlier, you’ll be able to measure the value of this organization by the ultimate metric, soldiers on the battlefield being able to utilize the equipment and the concepts we produce.”

The House panel pushed the Army officials to describe a timeline for Future Command’s efforts, which McCarthy said will be possible after moving closer towards full operational capability.

“We will be able show you the span time reduction in requirements, development and then moving towards experimentation and prototyping for procurement of weapons systems,” McCarthy said.

Lawmakers expressed concern during the hearing that standing up a new command could create bureaucratic challenges and complicate responsibilities for the Army’s acquisition process

“Relationships with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)), as well as those with the Army’s Materiel Command and the Training and Doctrine Command, will be critical. Indeed, it’s difficult to envision how all these changes will synchronize in a smooth fashion,” Rep. Joe Wilson, chairman of the subcommittee, said during his opening remarks. “While I am hopeful, I am not yet persuaded that a new command is the right answer to the Army’s acquisition challenges.”

McCarthy said senior ASA(ALT) officials will provide necessary oversight and management to the Cross Functional Teams and have their roles worked in to synchronize acquisition responsibilities with Futures Command.

Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, deputy ASA(ALT), will serve as Murray’s primary acquisition adviser and receive instruction on procurement efforts from Bruce Jette, the service’s top research and development officials, the Army officials said.

Murray described his role as the head of Futures Command as leading the “orchestration” of full force modernization, with oversight of the entire acquisition process, while not necessarily having authorities for every aspect.

“Maintaining one person with oversight that can point out opportunities and arising problems so they can be solved quickly, by whoever’s responsible for that piece of it, is one of my primary roles,” Murray said.

Rep. Steve Russell noted his view that Futures Command will be required to reform the acquisition process by introducing more prototyping and experimentation to avoid the past failures of previous modernization programs.

“We often say nothing’s too good for the troops. And ‘nothing’ is pretty much what we’ve given them since the 1980’s. I don’t share the pessimism that some may share on our panel today. I actually have optimism for it. Because if you look at where our acquisition process has been, we have a long line of almost hall-of-fame type failures to show for what has not worked in the last 30 years,” Russell said.

McCarthy added that he has already received feedback from industry on the new command’s approach to acquisition reform.

“Our initial feedback from industry is they’re very encouraged by this. They can go to one place and they can work through the various issues associated with an RFP, better understand a requirement that we intend to put on an RFP. So it’s created better relationships, and more so than anything, it has improved the timelines it takes to move information and formalize these teams to work better together,” McCarthy said.

This story was initially published in sister outlet Defense Daily.

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