Big Army’s key message: Trust us
“Trust” and “strength” are the Army’s two main messages at this year’s Association of the United States Army trade show — as opposed to the messages of the defense industry or AUSA itself. Soldiers need to be able to trust each other, their commanders, and the Army generally in order to get through the current wars and then move forward, the service argues. That message doesn’t stop there, though.
The Army’s top leaders, including Secretary John McHugh, Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and its top acquisitions leadership, all have the same message for think-tankers, white-paperists, Pentagon hacks and — especially — the Hill: Look, we know there have been some … imperfections … in the way we’ve developed and acquired weapons, and perhaps in the past, taxpayers’ dollars weren’t put to their … optimal … use. But we get it now. We’ve changed. Trust us.
Over and over again in Tuesday’s AUSA events, questioners challenged top Army officials’ mostly optimistic perspectives on their medium-term acquisition priorities. Not to worry, they said. Of course we can recapitalize Humvees, build the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Ground Combat Vehicle, a new helicopter, reset our force and do the other things, all in the face of smaller budgets. We’ve got our “seven commandments” now, and our new commitment to transparency and communications, and we’re getting so much better about letting soldiers evaluate equipment before we field it.
Lt. Gen. Bob Lennox, who handed down the “commandments,” pointed out that the Army has had many successes in the past 10 years. It has fielded lethal new rounds for its M4 carbine; the best body armor in the world; and mine-resistant heavy vehicles that have saved thousands of troops’ lives. Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, a top acquisition officer, put it this way: “You might read about this in the dialogue inside the Beltway, that ‘Army acquisitions is broken.’ Even though we have our challenges, I can tell you from my heart that Army acquisitions is not broken.”
Their rosy picture of today’s Army bears no resemblance to the Kafkaeque vortex of bureaucratic churn that many people know; or, if you prefer, the microcosm of the Great Powers Era in which dueling warlords of budgets, requirements, doctrine, etc., do battle. That is one problem for the Army’s credibility in Washington: The acquisitions battlespace is not changing very much, but officials say the process they’ll use on it is. The same people and institutions will use new principles, including “cost as an independent variable” and “communication.” So: Can a multi-cam leopard change its digital spots?
The Army does not plan to undertake major structural change, collapsing offices and authorities into smaller PowerPoint charts or “cylinders of excellence.” Instead it will try to feed the paper through the copy machine in a different way, hoping it can run through the same gears and belts but not be mangled as before. Army leaders are tired of being reminded of the billions of dollars the service spent on programs it eventually cancelled. Now they want a fresh start — they want you to trust them.
The service’s top acquisition boss, Heidi Shyu, pointed out how much the Army has learned from its mistakes and how many new things it’s trying to get better at buying weapons. “This is new to us. We’re learning from it. I really hate to think because you screwed up 10 years ago, you’re forever going to be stupid. We are learning what we need to do to change our processes.”