The Army’s lead modernization official on Wednesday said the service faces “almost impossible choices” in deciding where to divest of legacy equipment in the coming years, adding the service remains committed to developing its full slate of more than 30 signature systems in the face of a tighter budget environment.

“If I had to sum up the way the Army is heading into the future, I’d say no change. Our priorities will remain our priorities, and we will continue to focus on the 31+4 [signature systems],” Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, said during a discussion at the annual McAleese defense conference. “We’re going to stay committed to this until forced to do otherwise.”

Gen. Mike Murray, Commanding General of U.S. Army Futures Command discuss the future of the U.S. Army modernization and Futures Command during the National Partner Luncheon during this year’s Association of the United States Army annual conference on Oct. 10, 2018, in Washington D.C.

Murray said the Army has made another round of “hard choices” to cut or reduce lower priority programs per the latest round of the service’s “night court” review effort to shift funds toward modernization, while declining to name any specific programs until the budget is rolled out.

“I can’t say much right now than we have made a bunch of hard choices and we’re going to have to make more hard choices, and in many cases it’s to the point of being almost impossible choices,” Murray said.

The Biden administration has released topline budget request numbers, to include $715 billion for the Pentagon which would represent a 1.5 percent increase over FY ‘21 spending levels, but no details on how the money would be allocated.

John Whitley, the Army’s acting secretary, said recently the service faces “a tremendous amount of risk” if a potential smaller budget is unable to sustain recent readiness gains and support major modernization developments (Defense Daily, April 27). 

Murray said he doesn’t see the Army being the “bill payer” and taking the brunt of cuts if the budget does flatten out or decline slightly in the coming years.

“The foregone fact that the Army is going to be the bill payer is an assumption at this point. Maybe I’m being optimistic and maybe I’m not, but I do think that’s still an assumption that remains to be seen,” Murray said, adding he’s optimistic that the cyclical nature of defense spending will mean an increase is on the horizon if cuts do materialize.

On the CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift aircraft, which previously faced pushback from lawmakers over proposed cuts, Murray noted the service has no replacement plan in place at this time and said the capability will remain important to the service for the foreseeable future.

“CH-47 is a critical capability. We started the CH-47F Block II, specifically, years ago [and] it’s being fielded to our special operators today. So we’re absolutely committed to that and we’re absolutely committed to working with Congress and industry to make sure that we deliver that capability,” Murray said.

Last week, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) urged the House Armed Services Committee to maintain funding for the CH-47F Block II program and added that previous proposals to roll back the program placed “thousands of jobs and advanced heavy lift capability at risk” (Defense Daily, May 5). 

During the last budget cycle, Congress blocked the Army’s attempt to reduce the CH-47F Block II program and instead added $189 million for the program to include production of five aircraft.