US Adversaries like Russia are fielding revolutionary technologies like tanks and battle tested unmanned vehicles. The new T-14 Armata tank represents “the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century,” says a leaked report of the British military intelligence obtained by The Sunday Telegraph newspaper in London.”For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank,” The Sunday Telegraph quotes the report. “And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front.” “As a complete package, Armata certainly deserves its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation,” the report says.
On the other hand its own program like $18 billion Future Combat System in the last decade was doomed. FCS was an eight-year Army effort to develop revolutionary new vehicles, communications networks, drones, and other technology that bled cash until it was mercifully put to sleep by then-defense secretary Robert Gates in 2009.
“The FCS program was such a massive failure and a missed opportunity for Army modernization,” says Todd Harrison, a budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the advisory board for Defense News’ 30th anniversary edition. “I think this program single-handedly set the Army back a generation in vehicle technology.”
Failure of Future Combat System
Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy, who was serving in the defense secretary’s office when Future Combat Systems was cancelled, said the program’s fundamental flaw was that “the operational concept and the technical concepts were not linked.” Since the concepts for technology kept changing, the program lasted longer than intended, increasing costs. Futures Command, he said, is meant to bring key-decision makers together to “cut the number of layers between the information and the leadership.”
“The Army’s new concepts for operating during this period of time were monolithic and without alternatives,” a 2010 RAND report commissioned by the service on lessons learned from the program stated. “Concepts such as strategic and operational maneuverability — ‘see first, decide first, act first’—which led to a tradeoff of armor protection for intelligence and decision-making, suggest that the Army did not have a clear grasp of which technologies were feasible and which were necessary and satisfactory to meet the needs of the future.” The all-encompassing program was remarkable because there was no mechanism in place to periodically re-evaluate key assumptions, leading officials to charge forward without asking important questions along the way.
Contributing to the program problems was what is now widely considered a toxic contractor-government constellation: an industry consortium led by Boeing and SAIC was effectively put in charge of overseeing its own performance.
Futures Command growth
US Army is now consolidating its modernization efforts in a single command that will be located in Austin, Texas. The city was selected based on a number of factors, including the availability of talent from the private sector, access to top-tier academic institutions, and quality of life.
Army Futures Command leader Gen. Mike Murray said the organization grew from 12 people at its groundbreaking in July 2018, to a massive organization encompassing 24,000 soldiers and civilians across 25 states and 15 countries as of 2019. Futures Command took on organizations like the Army Medical Research Center, cultivated relationships with industry and academia, started building a robotics institute at the University of Texas and established a headquarters in Austin, Texas.
Murray said the cross functional teams — the “crown jewel” of Futures Command, made of six teams tasked with researching and procuring the Army’s six modernization priorities, such as long-range precision fires and future vertical lift — are more than 90% staffed, as is the artificial intelligence task force. The headquarters is 100% staffed on the military side and more than 50% on the civilian side.
By consolidating the Army’s modernization enterprises under one roof, Futures Command is meant to make the Army’s acquisition system faster and more efficient, said Army Secretary Mark Esper: “You now have a single commander in charge of everything from the future force design and concepts all the way through how we spend our RDT&E [Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation] dollars to the prototyping and testing and soldier involvement into acquisition and ultimately to fielding.”
Another change is the new command will be focused solely on what the Army needs in the future, so it will not be distracted by the needs of the current fight, said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “You can have people thinking about the future, they develop the concepts, they look at the technology, they work side-by-side and they come up with the type of materiel that we’re going to need to be successful in the future,” he said.
The Army needed to centralize its modernization enterprise because none of the commands currently conducting research and development was focused on “the deep future,” said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “We’re in the midst of a change in the very character of war and we didn’t have an organization solely dedicated to that,” Milley said. “That’s important. Our analysis indicates that it will avoid a lot of avoid a lot of the pitfalls of previous program failures.”
A Government Accountability Office report released in Dec 2019 took aim at the way Futures Command prepared itself to work with small businesses. Small businesses are crucial for bringing in new, innovative ideas that transcend what the big defense contractors do, and will spearhead the changes the military wants to make to counter near-peer competitors.
Murray said the report is spot on and Futures Command is working on the three recommendations set forth in the GAO report. Those recommendations include coordinating with relevant Army organizations on small business efforts, systematically tracking small business engagement and developing command-wide performance measures for small business engagement.
Futures Command in action
One of the technologies the Futures Command cross functional teams (CFT) have been developing is Maneuver, Short Range Air Defense — a moveable air defense artillery for low-altitude air threats like drones and fixed-wing aircraft, something the Army hasn’t had to worry about in recent conflicts, but may in future ones.
“We started with a directive requirement back in February 2018,” Youngman said. “We now have nine prototypes being built. We expect to have our first turret and integration of our first prototype in the near future and starting testing in the October timeframe.” Col. Charles Worshim III, project manager for cruise missiles defense project office, said the CFT leveraged other transaction authorities to move through the acquisition cycle quickly. The Army invited industry to a demonstration of what it wanted to defend against; from there it went forward with the OTA process.
“From a demonstration to refining requirements to an updated contract to buy the initial prototypes in about 10 months is remarkable,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Rasch, program executive officers for missiles and space. “Normally we don’t get a set of requirements upfront in 10 months and a contract takes forever. Futures Command allows acquisition and operational senior leaders to look at a problem and ensure we have the right layers of process on a program and shred the things that don’t really apply. That’s really hard for a program manager because he doesn’t have the authority, but when you have a four star or the secretary of the Army or the undersecretary of the Army leaning in on something it really helps expedite the process.”
Army Col. Rosendo “Ross” Guieb, who has been a senior staff member at the Army Futures Command center in Austin, will be the first executive director for the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex, which is on Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus in Bryan. Futures Command last year announced that it had selected the RELLIS campus for its testing site. The $200 million complex will feature an enclosed-tube testing facility for hypersonic and laser technologies, as well as laboratories and outdoor testing grounds for air and land vehicles. “This is the time to really dig in with research and science and data to ensure that we’re able to deter war. That’s our first goal is to deter war.” Guieb said. “But if necessary, fight and win.”
We’re going to test material. Hypersonics are projectiles that go Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) or faster. So in order to ensure that we’re providing the right equipment, the right tools… you have to ensure that you do all the testing for the materials. For example, heat is a big issue when you’re going that quickly. So that’s one of the things that you have to be able to test and model in order to ensure that you’re giving the right research and technology to the customers.
Our relationship University in Texas is focused on certain specific research areas, and at RELLIS campus and Texas A&M we’re focused on other research areas. We’re focused on things like hypersonics, directed energy and resilient networks. Then lastly, an innovation proving ground. Basically, think about testing new equipment, think about a soldier center designed to allow soldiers to provide feedback early in the development process. So when we eventually deliver it will be what soldiers want and what the soldiers need, and not something that somebody very senior who won’t be doing what they’re doing thinks they want.
We have organizations within Army Futures Command that work with our nontraditional industry partners, so think startups, think people that have novel ideas and novel technology. Army Applications Lab, that’s the component from Army Futures Command that helps curate and translate what the Army’s problems are to people that never dealt with the Army, or government. You may think your technology is good to do things for the commercial space, but you’re just not exposed to the military to understand that it perhaps has a dual use. Army Applications Lab can help build that bridge for the young entrepreneur or the up and coming on entrepreneur, said Guieb.