Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, whose number-one priority has always been rebuilding and maintaining readiness, is turning his focus to bringing Army acquisition from the Industrial to the Digital Age.

In a letter sent Oct. 3 to general officers and signed by Milley and Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Milley calls for an overhaul of the sluggish processes by which the Army buys and fields weapons in order to regain the technical overmatch it has enjoyed since World War II but has since let slip.

“Today, our Army is not institutionally organized to deliver modern, critical capabilities to soldiers and combat formations quickly,” Milley writes in the two page memo obtained by Defense Daily. “Our current modernization system is an Industrial Age model. It was sufficient for past threats but insufficient to ensure future overmatch and rapid procurement of the six modernization priorities.”

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley talks with Special Operation Forces Soldiers training at the U.S. Army National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., Nov. 6, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley talks with Special Operation Forces Soldiers training at the U.S. Army National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., Nov. 6, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)

“The competitive advantage that the United States Army has long enjoyed, however, is eroding. We are being challenged in every domain of warfare,” Milley adds.

It has become an oft-parroted cliché at this point that while the Army was focused on fighting counterinsurgency wars in the desert, peer adversaries like China and Russia have “gone to school” on the U.S. military. The result is an Army unsuited and ill-equipped to fight a large-scale war with one of those capable adversaries that has full-spectrum combat capabilities, Milley says.

The sole focus of the new modernization strategy is making soldiers more lethal, Milley says. A more formal rollout of the reorganization Milley says is required to achieve his rapid acquisition goals is expected at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual expo this week in Washington, D.C.

“Our Army must regain our overmatch and competitive advantage against emerging threats, competitors and adversaries,” Milley writes. “We have worked hard in recent years to increase our readiness and strengthen our formations and now must modernize our capabilities to increase our lethality against emerging regional and global near-peer adversaries.”

 “We must turn ideas into actions through continuous experimenting and prototyping, improving acquisition business processes, pursuing appropriate commercial/off-the-shelf options and improving training,” Milley writes. He also calls for increased interoperability with allies.

In order of importance, Milley lays out six modernization priorities beginning with long-range precision fire capability that “restores U.S. Army dominance in range, munitions and target acquisition.”

He next calls for a next-generation combat vehicle with manned, unmanned and optionally manned variants. Future vertical lift is needed to perform attack, lift and reconnaissance roles, also in manned, unmanned and optionally-manned variants.

The Army needs a network with hardware, software and infrastructure that is “sufficently mobile and expeditionary. Air and missile-defense capabilities must ensure our future combat formations are protected from missiles and drones, Milley says.

Finally, he says soldiers need increased lethality that “spans all fundamentals – shooting, moving, communicating, protecting and sustaining.”

“We will field not only next-generation individual and squad combat weapons, but also improved body armor, sensors, radios and load-bearing exoskeletons,” Milley writes. “Putting all this together, we must improve human performance and decision making by increasing training and assessment starting at the soldier level. This will require rapid expansion of our synthetic training environment and deeper distribution of simulations capabilities down to battalion and companies, with simulation capability to model combat in megacities, a likely battlefield of the future.”  

Milley then attacks the Army’s acquisition bureaucracy as bloated, slow and stove-piped, but provides few specifics about how the plan will be implemented within the ranks. He calls for enabling disruption, “the messy, chaotic work that is the hallmark of truly innovative organizations.” The Army will employ agile, “cross-functional” teams assigned to each of the six modernization priorities and they will report directly to the vice chief of staff and the undersecretary of the Army, he says.

“We will reduce the ‘time to deliver’ for the new systems we need to regain our competitive advantage before the next first battle,” he writes. “Our army will implement these modernization priorities to improve out acquisition and modernization processes to ensure that future generations of soldiers continue to be in the most lethal fighting force in the world, for the next seven decades and beyond.”