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Army Acquisition Must Change To Survive

Posted by Carlo Munoz on

Washington: Army acquisition is facing the largest financial crunch since the infamous defense drawdown of the 1990s. To meet that challenge, service officials today rolled out a list of seven “commandments” it will follow to get the Army through these tough times.

The problem is these “commandments” — increased focus on cost and schedule, increased cooperation between the requirements, acquisition and logistics communities and getting problems solved in the early phases of system development — are things the Army has demanded in the past, to no avail.

Past Army leaders have continually called for these types of reforms in the acquisition process before. In July, Army Secretary John McHugh laid out the way ahead to fix the service acquisition process, including a number of the same recommendations included in today’s list of Army buying commandments.

But, aside from several successes in responding to urgent needs coming from field commanders, the Army’s track record in acquisition has not gotten any better.

So when I asked Lt. Gen Robert Lennox, chief of the Army office in charge of funding service programs, why these new “commandments” will be the ones force service acquisition to change, his answer was simple: The Army doesn’t have a choice anymore.

The current financial crunch the service and DoD now finds itself under leaves virtually no room for the Army to wiggle past these new calls for reform, Lennox told me after his speech at the U.S. Army Association’s annual symposium here.

In past efforts, the Army could afford to let these calls for change slip to the right, since it had been able to get most of what it wanted during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But with those operations now winding down, the Army is looking at the prospect of deep personnel cuts, coupled with the task of having to rebuild a force ground down by a decade of constant combat.

On top of all that, the spending cuts being pushed for by the White House and Capitol Hill has backed the Army into a virtual corner, Lennox admitted. Bottom line, Army acquisition must reform to survive, the three-star general admitted.

The Army has not been under this kind of pressure since the mid-1990s, and Army acquisition did change at that time as a result of that pressure, Lennox pointed out.

Getting acquisition reform done, in house, has taken on added importance to the Army given what could happen if the Hill or the White House were forced to do the job for them, Lennox said at a briefing later today.

The “salami slice” approach that others outside the Army and DoD may use to cut the service’s budget will “just make everything worse and . . .break programs,” Lennox said. “That is a big risk for us.”

All the more reason, he added, that the Army must reform its buying process on its own.

But this reform, he added, will not mean that the Army will not continue to be responsive to the needs of troops in the field, or forget the lessons learned from those conflicts.

As Lennox pointed out, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not over, and acquisition reform won’t be done at the expense of those soldiers in the field.

What do you think?