The outgoing chief of the recently established Army Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, says swift acquisition of weapons and equipment must become the norm in a future operational environment dominated by technological advancements.

“We cannot keep pace with our adversaries,” Piatt said recently at a forum on Army modernization hosted by the Lexington Institute on Capitol Hill. “While we are meeting current demand, our enemies have been modernizing at an alarming rate.”

CH-47F Chinook at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Photo: U.S. Army.
CH-47F Chinook at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Photo: U.S. Army.

The Pentagon’s current procurement system generally delivers platforms between five and 10 years after a program solicits bids from industry. With technology, especially electronics and software, advancing at an exponential rate, that acquisition timeline is far too slow, Piatt said.

Fielding weapons in 10-15 year cycles is “unacceptable to Army senior leadership and is strategically irresponsible,” he said.

The RCO – based on the Air Force RCO blueprint – is designed to take technologies already in the Army inventory, or non-developmental, commercially available equipment and apply them to perceived capability gaps in novel ways. The goal is to patch those gaps within three years.

Piatt will soon leave RCO to take command of the 10th Mountain Division, where he will encounter the second phenomenon he said is keeping the Army from rapidly modernizing. Ever-rising global demand for soldiers leaves the Army treading water to maintain its current state of readiness and leaves scant resources for investment in modernization, he said.

“That’s the problem set that the Army has: We’ve got to be ready today, but we’ve got to be relevant for tomorrow,” he said. “Within the strategic framework we’re operating in, we’re putting our investment in readiness today and we’re taking risk in relevance tomorrow.”

When the RCO was established last year, it was given four priority capability gaps to address: Electronic warfare (EW), precision navigation and timing (PNT), active protection systems (APS) and cyber. Because other offices already were pursuing APS and the Army has since established its own cyber component command, Piatt decided to focus RCO’s effort on EW and PNT. The emphasis, he said, is to field systems that address perceived capability gaps in those areas, have deployed soldiers test them and provide feedback.

“We cannot wait for something to be developed, a perfect solution that would come to us in five to 10 years,” Piatt said. “What do we have in the inventory today that could be repurposed that  would give us the ability to do electronic support, electronic attack and electronic protection?”

Through rapid prototyping, these repurposed technologies will be fielded in small numbers to deployed units, likely in Europe, to test and evaluate. Then senior leaders will either kill it and move on or turn it into a program of record.

 “My assessment, as I’m now heading out the door … is the Army has got to accept that rapid is the new norm,” Piatt said. “The exception now must become the norm. … We must be willing to take risk and fail faster so that our program executive officers can meet the demand that the chief and global demand has placed upon us.”