Army Slaps Gear On Chopping Block

As the Army’s top buyer, Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of staff for programs said he’s demanding a cost benefit analysis of all existing as well as new systems and what value they bring to soldiers. Weapons systems that are redundant or that fail to provide for soldiers fighting today’s wars will fast fall out of favor. Getting new technologies and gear to soldiers quickly has also moved up in importance.

The Army unveiled its 2010 modernization strategy this week and we had a chance to ask Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of staff for programs, about the service’s plans and what’s new. Affordability, that’s one thing that’s new.

The Army modernization plan contains the usual keywords and phrases such as versatile, networked and full spectrum. But the Army’s new weapons, vehicles, aircraft and sensors must also be affordable, Lennox said today, echoing other military leaders who realize that federal deficits are viewed by some lawmakers as a national threat.

As the Army’s top buyer, Lennox said he’s demanding a cost benefit analysis of all existing as well as new systems and what value they bring to soldiers. Weapons systems that are redundant or that fail to provide for soldiers fighting today’s wars will fast fall out of favor. Getting new technologies and gear to soldiers quickly has also moved up in importance. “Speed matters,” said Lt. Gen. William Phillips, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition.

A review of the Army’s vast weapons portfolios revealed an outdated requirements process that was outdated and uninformed by current lessons learned. Too much war gaming was done on big conventional battle scenarios, Lennox said, which led them to do some “dumb” things, like stocking up on weapons that aren’t terribly relevant in irregular wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

A good example of a weapon that meets the Army’s new criteria is the 120mm precision mortar round (with an initial buy of 5,000 rounds) which the Army is rushing to the Afghan theater. An example of a weapon that does not: the Non-Line of Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS).

Lennox said the Army hasn’t made an official decision on what to do with NLOS-LS, but he made it pretty clear that the program has lost favor among the Army leadership. File NLOS-LS under redundant. He listed a number of precision indirect fire systems that would appear to fit a very similar bill as NLOS-LS: the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the Excalibur 155mm precision round, the 120mm precision mortar round, joint fires such as JDAMs, helicopter fired Hellfire missiles.

Battlefield experience from Iraq and Afghanistan has also influenced the Army’s decision on the way forward with NLOS-LS. “The amount of expenditure of precision indirect fire weapons has not been through the roof, it’s been less than we expected… We were surprised to find that there wasn’t more precision being fired.”

As for the other technological “spin outs” which will go to infantry brigades, a collection of sensors and robots, Lennox acknowledged that they’ve had their share of problems, but he believes the fixes have been made and will be evident in the next round of tests scheduled for September.

Another big piece of the modernization strategy is providing troops in even the most remote parts of Afghanistan with what is essentially a mobile wi-fi hot spot providing voice and digital communications, what the Army calls “battle command on the move.” In the U.S. we have cell phone towers and relay stations every few hundred feet providing iPhone and Blackberry users constant connectivity. That’s not the case in Afghanistan.

“In the places we fight, you have to take the network with you. Our radio systems are built-in cell phone tower mesh networks,” Lennox said, It’s a cutting edge when you have to carry wireless cell phone towers with you.” WIN-T and the Army’s piece of the Joint Tactical Radio System will provide that mobile big pipe, he said. The Army expects the costs for those radios to come down over time. The key is to get the network right. Once the network is built out, the Army can plug in a variety of mobile devices.