As the Army confronts a new world of increasing missions and operations with fewer soldiers and less money, the Under Secretary of the Army sees three challenges for leadership: material, managerial and metaphysical.

Over the past few years the ground force has seen about a $30 billion cut to the budget, Brad Carson told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies April 1. “As a result there are real consequences.”

Brad_carson23The material challenge is that the Army does not have “near enough” funds for modernization and research and development programs that are the seeds of the future force. The major drivers of those programs are aviation, the network, air and missile defense and vehicles.

“There’s not enough to do all of these kind of things,” he said. “They’re very expensive programs and we have a challenge in thinking through how we prioritize among them, [and] how we move into new programs that don’t threaten to consume the entire budget.”

If, for example, the Army wants a future fighting vehicle, how do you reconcile the cost of that with other programs such as the M1 Abrams tank, Strykers and other vehicles in that particular portfolio. “So there’s a real material problem in that respect.”

The managerial challenge for Carson as well as Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is “to create an institutional Army commensurate with the operational force.”

The operational force is great at planning, has tactical acumen, and great leadership, he said, but the institutional headquarters is not nearly as agile.

“It is not just arthritic, but so sclerotic at times” (that how) do you get things done,” Carson said. “How do you make decisions, how you push things through as a leader rather than react to matters that rise up to you.”

The question is how do you manage the Army in a better way, he said.

Part of the answer is slimming down the headquarters, which will be reduced by more than 20 percent over the next four or five years.

The service has done that not by arbitrary cuts, but by trying to reduce the number of echelons, he said. At headquarters there are often nine echelons between the chief of staff and secretary and the lowest levels. There are spans of control where someone is managing one, or two or three people where Army regulations contemplate managing 10-12 people at a minimum, and the corporate sector suggests managing six to eight people.

“We’ve changed that to where now everywhere in headquarters manages at least eight people,” he said. 

The third challenge is the metaphysical. The Army is in one of its periodic identity crises, as seems to happen after every major war, Carson said.

This is the area where the Army takes on the questions such as “what is the Army,” “what is our role” and how to become agile and adaptive–“what do those terms really mean in what we program and how we think about these things?”

Right now the Army has plenty of questions, but not all the answers, something it is working hard to address, he said.

Industry can help the Army move forward on these challenges, Carson said.

“Tell me what future war is going to look like” because that helps the Army decide, say, between a 20-ton vehicle and a 50-ton vehicle. Industry can also delineate the technical boundaries, another important input. 

While there are a number of “famous” failed acquisition programs, to cite only the Future Combat System and RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, “my job is to make sure we learn the right lessons from it…It comes down to assumptions about how programs operate and how the world works.”

Assumptions can be so embedded in an organization that they are part of the “mental furniture,” he said.

“It comes back to what future warfare looks like,” what the Army is going to be doing, what is it going to be, Carson said. “If you can’t agree on that question, all these acquisition programs become questionable.”

In the end, the Army has a singular competitive advantage, Carson said. “No other service has this, which is: we can make you change your mind when you otherwise don’t want to…The Army can come to your door, make you stop doing what you want to do and would otherwise like to continue, in a sustained, massive way and there is no other service that can do that.”

That’s the Army’s unique capability and no great power wants to be without it.