Senior Army leaders are now meeting monthly to review major acquisition programs and prioritize them, a new policy which likely will result in wholesale program cancellations so their funding can be redirected to the service’ six modernization priorities.
Army Secretary Mark Esper said he, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other senior leaders meet to review the major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) monthly, an undertaking generally done annually. They are looking for efficiencies and unnecessary or redundant programs that can be sacrificed at the altar of the Big Six modernization priorities, Esper said April 5 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“We have to do our due diligence. I have to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars and make sure I can free up all the money I can,” Esper said. “It’s going to mean cutting programs, bringing money from current programs by either slowing them or killing them, whatever the case may be, to free up money for those other higher priorities. We just can’t continue to ramble on funding 800 programs when we have higher-priority needs.”
Esper said the days of “spreading the peanut butter” among as many programs as possible without culling the ranks are over. In its fiscal 2019 budget request, the Army laid out a five-year plan to shuffle more than $1 billion in science and technology funding toward the six priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF), Next-Generation Combat Vehicles (NGCV), Future Vertical Lift (FVL), air and missile defense, secure battlefield networks and soldier lethality.
In fiscal 2019, modernization received a significant boost from $27.9 billion requested in fiscal 2018 to $32.1 billion. Within that portfolio, the Army’s procurement account would increase from $18.5 billion in the fiscal 2018 request to $21.9 billion. Research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funding would rise, accordingly, from $9.4 billion requested in fiscal 2018 to $32.1 billion in fiscal 2019. All of those increases are aimed at one of the six modernization lines of effort.
“We’re going to apply money to our top priorities first and then we’ll continue to move down that priority list until we run out of cash,” he said.
Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who is heading up establishment of the new Futures Command, said recently that the Army would undertake a strategic portfolio review to figure out what programs should and should not be funded and announce a program schedule this summer.
As it prepares to spend significant research funding on its six future capability desires, the Army is painfully aware of past failures. Leaders are therefore eager to ensure that feasible technologies make it across the “Valley of Death” into which many innovative widgets fall between the laboratory and being successfully transitioned to production.
Bruce Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition logistics and technology, recently announced creation of a fund specifically for transitioning promising technologies from lab to field. It would be the first of its kind in Army history. Jette did not say how large the fund would be, but explained the Army would still have to apply strict criteria for which innovations are worthy of funding.
“We are going to establish a fund specifically to cross the Valley of Death,” Jette said at the recent Association of the U.S. Army’s annual Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Ala. “It’s not infinitely large, which means we’re going to have to be selective on those things we are actually going to transition from research to programs.”
“There may be 20 transitions that are ready to go, and we may only want to fund five,” he added. “At least we’ll have done so deliberately and with forethought.”