Army senior leadership told a House panel on Tuesday the service’s plan to shift over $30 billion toward fully funding development of future weapon systems over the next five years is required to meet growing challenge from near-peer competitors such as Russia, which the chief of staff described as “the only current existential threat to the United States.”

Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief, testified before the House Armed Services Committee where they discussed planned cuts to lower priority programs in their fiscal year 2020 budget request and detailed efforts to engage industry on aligning with modernization interests.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks to Soldiers at Qayyarah Airfield West, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2017. The Soldiers are currently deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Avery Howard)

“While I am confident that we would prevail against any foe today, our adversaries are working hard to [deter] the outcomes of future conflicts. As a result, the Army stands at a strategic inflection point. If we fail to modernize the Army now, we risk losing the first battle of the next war,” Esper said. “We must build the next-generation of combat systems now before Russia and China outpace us with their modernization programs.”

Milley specifically highlighted Russia’s near-term challenge to the U.S., and a need to fund development of weapon systems that may be required for a future fight.

“Russian remains the only current existential threat to the United States and will become, in my opinion, increasingly optimistic and willing to take greater risks in the near-term,” Milley said during Tuesday’s hearing. “Because of their nuclear capability they are the only country on Earth that is capable, I’m not saying they would do it, but they are capable of hurting the United States”

Esper said Russia is already fielding its next-generation tank, the T-14 Armata, as well as advancing development of air defense and artillery systems and procuring new drones, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities.

The Army’s recently released FY ’20 budget request included plans to reduce or cut 186 programs in order to shift $33 billion toward modernization programs over the course of the Futures Years Defense Program (FYDP) through FY ’24.

Bradley fighting vehicles, Chinook helicopters, Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and Armored Multi-purpose Vehicles were among the programs included in the procurement adjustments.

Programs within the Army’s six modernization efforts include: the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, two Future Vertical Lift platforms, a new integrated air and missile defense command system and the Precision Strike Missile long-range precision fire.

“Those who are investing in legacy systems will fight to hold onto the past, while ignoring the billion of dollars in opportunities created by investments in new technologies and what it means for the Army’s future readiness,” Esper said. “While change will be hard for some, we can no longer afford to delay the Army’s modernization.”

Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the HASC chairman and ranking member, respectively, offered support for the Army’s effort to evaluate every single program and prioritize modernization.

“Leadership took the time to go through each of the programs and make tough decisions. I may or may not agree with all of the decisions you make. That’s irrelevant, but the point is you all have been serious about making the changes internally to ensure the Army is prepared for the challenges coming up,” Thornberry said.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) asked Esper and Milley about the potential effects on the Army supply chain after hearing concern from vendors based in her Pennsylvania district that work on legacy system programs.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with the private sector, particularly CEOs and senior leaders. We could only be as transparent as we could with particular cuts, but we were very clear with regard to where we’re going with the six modernization priorities. There’s predictability, and those priorities are not changing,” Esper said. “Meet us there. Come to talk to us about how you can be a player in that future, because whoever gets on that bus will have a chance for the work in the decades that come after that.”