Army officials have drawn up a list of 30 U.S. cities with the right talent pool, academic institutions and business development needed for the locations of its new Futures Command.
Senior service officials will get their first look at that list and other recommendations as early as this week, according to Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.
Between now and mid-spring, the list of potential will be whittled to 10, then to four that he and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will personally visit before pitching a final recommendation to their superiors, McCarthy said March 6 at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference in Washington, D.C. The command headquarters should be up and running at initial operational capability by late summer.
“We had to develop a methodology with an outside firm that helped us put together the type of formula that would help us compute what would be the best location in the country,” McCarthy said. “This isn’t like a standard basing decision where we put a brigade combat team somewhere. … We needed access to academia and business. Those were the two, kind-of key characteristics.”
The Army intends to lease a building to amortize the cost over 10 years, McCarthy said. The decision on which city and where in that city the headquarters will be located should happen this summer in the June-July timeframe.
An appropriate, but not identical corollary is the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), a hub of tech savvy Defense Department engineers and acquisition officials that seek relationships with high-tech businesses that don’t or won’t do business with the government. Since its inception under then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, DIUx has set up shops in Silicon Valley, Calif.; Boston, Mass., and Austin, Texas. Each location was chosen because of its density of talent in different high-tech sectors like software development and medical science.
A total 30 U.S. cities are in the running to become the home to Futures Command HQ, which will be something like two rented stories in a building rather than a brigade of uniformed soldiers plopped down in an urban area, McCarthy said.
Also included in the search was demographic data on the location of software and systems engineers and other talent applicable to Army modernization. As the Army strengthens its relationships with academia and non-traditional defense businesses, service officials must adjust their traditionally rigid culture.
“Ideally, it’s going to be somewhere where the talent is, and can embrace the cultures,” he said. “We recognize there are different cultures and we wanted to embrace them and get them involved.”
To demonstrate the culture gap, McCarthy likes to tell the story of a visit he and other Army higher-ups made to the University of Chicago. McCarthy was in a suit and French cuffs, accompanied by officers in their dress blue uniforms for meetings with academics in jeans and hoodies.
Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said March 6 that he and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville are “teeing up options” for Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley before the end of the week.
Those options will include the recommended structure for Futures Command that was developed over the past 120 days or so. The command structure is not a design for a brick-and-mortar base, but a new hierarchy for the Army’s various modernization functions, McCarthy said.
“You’re moving the reporting structure,” McCarthy said. “The talent is where it is in the United States, so there is not a vision of buildings closing and moving trucks. Will some people move eventually? Probably. But how it works, initial operational capability, will be a different reporting structure.”
Structuring Futures Command efficiently and effectively is more important than deciding where its leader will reside, McCarthy said. When it rolls out the initial changes later this month, they will represent the largest institutional change in the Army in 40 years. Realigning the Army’s disparate research, development, engineering, science and technology communities without disrupting the work they do and have done is a major challenge, he said.
“The large restructuring piece, that’s going to be the real challenge, the wiring of it,” McCarthy said. “If you look at TRADOC, TRADOC was exquisitely designed … how we integrate, how we train our people, how we write the doctrine, put materiel into doctrine, how we fight the systems. Unwinding that could create a real challenge, so how does that work with Futures Command? We’re spending a great deal of time making sure we understand that and we don’t disrupt that.”