The Army’s number-two civilian, who is overseeing a massive restructuring of the service’s weapons development and acquisition process, wants to push up prototyping and experimentation of new combat vehicles and aircraft “substantially sooner” than originally planned.

“Some things I will be looking at here in the February timeframe is the potential … to expedite the prototyping and experimentation for Next-Generation Combat Vehicles,” Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told Defense Daily during a Jan. 30 interview in his Pentagon office.

At a recent visit to the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Command (TARDEC), McCarthy “asked for some options” to suit the need for an NGCV, one of the service’s modernization priorites that each have dedicated cross-functional teams (CFTs).

Ryan McCarthy, the Under Secretary of the Army, poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 3, 2017.  (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)
Ryan McCarthy, the Under Secretary of the Army, poses for his official portrait in the Army portrait studio at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 3, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Monica King)

“They are going to show me in a couple of weeks,” McCarthy said. “We were supposed to look at a window for prototyping around the [20]22 or [20]23 timeframe. I want to see what I can do to do it substantially sooner. I gave them some left and right limits and told them to come back to the vice and I and we’ll see that in a couple weeks.”

The Army owes Congress  its combat vehicle modernization strategy over the next decade by April 30. McCarthy said the Army would have a formal answer to those requests no later than that date and that “would like to beat expectations, if possible.”

Clarification on a path to developing a Future Vertical Lift family of aircraft should also be made within the next three to six months, he said. FVL will eventually replace all the Army’s helicopters with next-generation platforms capable of superior range, speed and maneuverability.

“The same thing holds true with Future Vertical Lift,” he said. “We have got to make decisions on the next steps with that capability portfolio this year. In the next three to six months, you could see two major decisions with where we are headed on these programs. … It will be greater fidelity of the concepts of where we are going.”

Instead of building a better tank or Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Army leadership has called for improvements to the fundamental design and construction of combat vehicles. That includes development of lighter and stronger metals, autonomy and more-lethal weapons.

Until the advances in basic research and development occur to allow those technological upgrades, the Army will have to adjust its concept of what a combat vehicle should do and how it will fight. Those concepts will be laid out in the modernization strategy, he said.

“Metallurgy and physics are where they are at this state of technology,” McCarthy said. “So, you’ll end up making something that looks a lot like and Abrams or a lot like a Bradley unless you change, conceptually, what you are trying to achieve.”

The CFTs that are studying NGCV and FVL are two of eight the Army has launched to pursue its six modernization priorities. The other CFTs are focusing on, assured Precision Navigation and Timing (PNT), Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF), air and missiles defense, soldier lethality and synthetic training environments.

McCarthy said the teams, which are already operating at various Army installations around the country, provide a sort of preview of what its new Futures Command will undertake when it is established this summer.

“We do have, essentially, an interim capability with our cross-functional teams” that are “doing a great job shaping those capability portfolios and informing the Vice [Chief of Staff McConville] as we drive the budget process,” he said.

Army Futures Command will consolidate the service’s modernization enterprise under one four-star command. The command will draw from and possibly absorb many of the Army’s current science, technology, research and development organizations.

The new command should be established and running by summer 2018, but decisions on its leadership and structure are still in the works, he said.

“We’re on track to making a decision by the end of February,” he said.

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly stated the Army Future Command would be led by a three-star general. It will be led by a four-star general.