Congress heavily backed Army modernization in the compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) released Nov. 8, adding billions to the service’s initial request to cover new tanks, combat vehicles and rotorcraft.
The fiscal 2018 NDAA authorizes an active duty Army of 483,500 soldiers, a 7,500-troop increase over fiscal 2017. Both the National Guard and Army Reserve receive a 500-soldier boost from fiscal 2017 for endstrengths of 343,500 and 199,500, respectively.
Major gains were made in the Army’s ongoing effort to bring its armored brigade combat teams into the 21st century with updated tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request had the Army finalizing M1 Abrams tanks modernization in 2035. The 2018 NDAA funds accelerated armored brigade combat team modernization and “works to restore needed capability to Army Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs) to ensure continued ground combat overmatch.”
Included in the bill is $1.1 billion for 85 M1A2 System Enhancement Package version 3 (SEPv3) Abrams tanks, the most technologically sophisticated configuration. This represents an increase of $375 million above the president’s initial budget request and addresses a previously unfunded requirement.
Another $311 million will cover 93 M2A4 Bradley fighting vehicles, the most modern version of that platform, and other modifications. That amount is $111 million above the Army’s initial request and fully supports another previously unfunded requirement.
The NDAA authorizes $194.4 million – up $122 million from the Army’s initial budget request – to purchase 51 HERCULES improved recovery vehicles, the primary single recovery vehicle in ABCTs.
Both the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle replacement for the M113 armored personnel carrier and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle replacement for the Humvee are fully supported under the 2018 NDAA.
To continue modernization of Stryker brigades, the NDAA includes an additional $348 million for 116 double V-hull Stryker combat vehicles in order to finish outfitting the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) vehicle set of the blast-resistant combat vehicles. It also authorizes $177 million to begin equipping a second SBCT’s worth of Strykers with a 30mm cannon lethality upgrade.
Congress delivered further on the Army’s unfunded aircraft wish list by paying for more UH-60M Black Hawks, AH-64E Apaches, and CH-47F Chinook helicopters. Specifically, the National Guard will receive $108 million for five UH-60Ms. Another $273.7 million will purchase eight AH-64Es Apache gunships. Another $108 million will cover four CH-47F Block I aircraft. More than $246 million will go toward four Special Operations MH-47Gs and $16.7 million was thrown in for three UH-60Vs.
Being so showered in modernization dollars after a decade where funding for new gear fell by nearly two-third is welcome but comes with some oversight. Congress has asked that the Army secretary develop a “comprehensive modernization strategy for the total Army to include a detailed description of its combat vehicle modernization priorities over the next five and 10 years,” a summary of the bill states. “This strategy will explicitly address the Army's vision, end state, key objectives, warfighting challenges, and risks.”
Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy recently announced plans to establish an independent modernization or “futures” command within the Army that will draw personnel and missions from existing organizations like Training and Doctrine, Combat Integration and Forces commands. The new command, which will be headed by either a three- or four-star general, should be up and running by next summer, McCarthy said at a Nov. 8 breakfast meeting hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at its headquarters outside Washington, D.C.
The new command “represents a fundamental reorganization for the Army…of how you do business, transitioning from the industrial age to the digital age,” McCarthy said. It is McCarthy’s intention, even after he is replaced by incoming Secretary Mark Esper and resumes duties as undersecretary, to “tee up” a decision in February for the Army to create the modernization command.