US Army Releases 2008 Modernization Strategy
It’s a daunting task. Faced with a high operational tempo over the past 7 years, the US Army is trying to expand its size, fix or replace all the equipment it has worn out, recapitalize or modernize the 1980s-era equipment that still makes up the mainstay of its force, adapt to new doctrines like counterinsurgency, and leave itself ready to fight a peer power if future scenarios demand it. The range of equipment operated by the US Army matches that of some entire militaries, and includes ships, aircraft and UAVs, anti-air defenses including ballistic and cruise missile defense, electronic warfare, plus communications, vehicles, and infantry.
If the Army’s task is daunting, so is the observer’s task of making sense of it all, and of placing ongoing contracts and programs in context. “Army Modernization Strategy 2008” is a valuable reference guide that explains concepts and programs for casual observers, and even provides useful timelines, while providing material that will improve even an experts’ base of knowledge. See also Appendix A, which provides more in-depth information concerning active programs of record and their current status.
While the work is valuable, it is not perfect. In many ways, it is more a procurement guide than a strategy. Here are 4 elements of procurement strategy readers may wish to consider as they read the report…
- The Army’s 2008 modernization strategy openly acknowledges that additional funding beyond existing budgets will be required – but how likely is that, and what happens if the extra funding does not materialize?
- The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been extremely high, even when using inflation adjusted dollars, despite the fact that the forces are smaller than the American contingents that fought in Vietnam. The modernization strategy never offers or refers to in-depth analysis of why current operations and equipment are so costly. Nor does it seem to treat lowering those lifetime costs as a strategic priority. RECAP/RESET/Repair may be cost-effective, but it does not alter the structural costs of the platforms themselves. The modernization strategy’s centerpiece, Future Combat Systems, will feature far more complex equipment. History suggests that it will have correspondingly higher operational costs. How well is the issue of affordability addressed in the US Army’s modernization strategy?
- If humanitarian efforts, operations other than war, failed state terrain, and counterinsurgency are growing in importance, as the report indicates, the role of combat engineering rises accordingly. It plays a major role in each of these operations. Properly employed under the right circumstances, it can even be decisive. Readers can decide for themselves if the Army’s 2008 modernization strategy adequately reflects the future importance of organic combat engineering capabilites.
- With the phase-out of the Army’s M113s in favor of more wheeled Stryker systems, what does the US Army use for light, transportable armored vehicles with true all-terrain capability? This niche is filled by other countries with vehicles like the Bv206/BvS10 series, CVR (T) Scorpion/Scimitar et. al., M113s, et. al. British and Canadian experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that this is an important niche. Has the US Army effectively abandoned it? Is that abandonment justified by a changing environment, or is the Army limiting its tactical flexibility in so doing?