The Army’s lead official for modernization efforts said Wednesday he has begun considering how the service may need to prioritize the development of its “31 plus three” signature weapon systems facing likely flat or declining budgets in the coming years.

Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, said without the 3 to 5 percent annual budget growth called for by senior Army and Pentagon officials to fully fund modernization, the Army would likely have to look at greater cuts to legacy programs it has previously protected during recent budget reviews.

Gen. Mike Murray, commander of Army Futures Command

 “I have a list in my mind, that’s only in my mind right now, for the [prioritization] of the 31 plus three [signature systems]. And I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that. I think it depends on which theater you’re talking about. I think it depends on what timeframe you’re talking about. And it absolutely depends on what budgets do in fact look like in the out-years,” Murray said during an online AUSA event.

Murray reiterated the Army’s priority is to stick with the development of all “31 plus three” signature systems, ranging from Future Vertical Lift platforms to the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, adding it was too early to state specifically how programs would be prioritized before a final budget outlook is in place. 

“We should and we will and we are going to keep everything on track for as long as we possibly can,” Murray said. 

Bruce Jette, the Army’s top acquisition official, said earlier this week that the service has started studying models that could inform prioritization of its major modernization programs as well as assessing the long-term economic impact of sustaining future equipment (Defense Daily, June 8). 

Murray noted the Army’s “night court” process, used to shift funds from legacy efforts to fund modernization, has largely avoided cuts to a majority of its current programs, instead choosing to target only those deemed the lowest priority. The process is expected to be tougher if the Army faces a tighter defense budget, he said.

“Over the last few years we have protected a large portion of those 685 programs, on the order of about 85 percent. The deep dives cuts were, in most cases, focused on that other 15 percent,” Murray said. “If there is a budget impact, and my personal opinion is there most certainly will be, then we’re going to have to unprotect some of those things. I think we’ll continue to protect the 31 plus three signature systems, but we’re going to have to look at some of the things we weren’t going to look at in the past in order to keep those [modernization programs] on track.”