Russia has demonstrated ground combat technologies in Ukraine and Syria to which the U.S. Army is vulnerable and unable to develop countermeasures because its modernization budget has been cut to pay for near-term readiness, senior generals told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“We are outranged and outgunned by many potential adversaries in the future in winning that sort of deep fight against an enemy with long-range capabilities,” Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic air and land forces .  “Meanwhile, the Army’s modernization budget has continued to decrease as it pays bills for maintaining readiness. That leaves the Army funding vital programs at starvation rates and robbing it of the desired flexibility to invest in future technologies and to cover emerging vulnerabilities.”

Abrams M1A1 Photo: General Dynamics
Abrams M1A1
Photo: General Dynamics

Even with fewer resources to support its modernization needs, the Army is calling on industry to invest in certain technologies it perceives will be critical in future conflicts. McMaster rehashed what the Army is calling its Big 8 investment targets for the panel. They are advanced vehicle protection systems, cross-domain fires, combat vehicle technologies, robotics and autonomy, expeditionary mission command, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum dominance and soldier/team performance and overmatch.

“Threats and enemies are becoming increasingly capable and our competitive advantages that we’ve banked on in recent years are narrowing,” he said. “Reductions in the size of the Army and decreased investments in modernization, as well as the improved capabilities of potential enemies, the Army risks losing qualitative overmatch in future conflicts.”

Industry analysts see opportunity in ground forces modernization. Capital Alpha Partners said it could be an “emerging investment theme.” Of particular interest is the mention of Army vulnerabilities in air defense and ground-based electronic warfare needed to counter Russian unmanned aerial systems that have been used successfully in Ukraine to sight-in long-range artillery.

“A key will be to identify program niches and specific company beneficiaries in the U.S. and Europe,” the consultancy said in a report released Wednesday. “Go-to names are BAE Systems, Cubic (for training), General Dynamics [GD], Harris [HRS] and Raytheon [RTN]. Over the past 6-9 months we’ve heard more concerns, which were reiterated at the April 5 hearing, regarding Russian military capabilities evidenced in Ukraine. These include effective use of unmanned air vehicles, electronic warfare and massed rocket artillery strikes.”

McMaster warned that potential enemies at the same time are focusing on technologies that will disrupt the perceived advantages the U.S. military has enjoyed for decades. Russia and other adversaries have found ways to evade long-range detection, which blunts the effectiveness of long-range weapons delivered from air or sea, he said.

Precision-strike standoff weapons also are vulnerable to emerging cyber and electromagnetic technologies that can disrupt their homing capabilities. Advanced, ground-based, tiered air defenses bring into question the inevitability of U.S. air superiority in future conflicts, McMaster said.

There is little opportunity for industry to capture huge vehicle programs – Ground Combat Vehicle, Mobile Protected Fires, Future Vertical Lift – that are in the nascent research and development stages.

“The Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Abrams tank will soon be obsolete but they will remain in the Army inventory for the next 50 to 70 years,” McMaster said.

That creates opportunities to upgrade existing vehicles that face obsolescence as the service adjusts plans to keep them in service for another half-century. Bradleys, Strykers and the Abrams tank will need improved power generation, sensors and electronics, Capital Alpha said.

The Army’s total modernization obligation authority has fallen 74 percent since its peak in 2008, McMaster said. The Army’s modernization budget got a major boost from $20.6 billion in fiscal year 2015 to $24 billion in the current fiscal year but will go back down to $22.6 billion in the service’s 2017 budget request. The spending plan prioritizes near-term readiness by slowing modernization and research and development.

Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said continuing to deny the Army’s desire to modernize threatens the industrial base it will need to provide equipment in the future.  

“Reductions in the Army’s modernization account continue to present challenges to the defense industrial base, including our own organic industrial base,” Williamson said. “In developing our equipment modernization strategy, we carefully assessed risk across all portfolios to protect ongoing production and to sustain the industrial base and to include the preservation of key workforce skills.”