AUSA: The Honorable Shyu, as everyone in the military calls the head of Army acquisition, is often bright, humorous and insightful. Today, she got passionate in public, clearly frustrated at the painful limits that the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration have forced her to adopt.
American military power has traditionally rested on technological overmatch. We may not boast the most soldiers or the most tanks or planes but we do the best job of training our people. We build the best tanks, the best helicopters, the best personnel carriers and on and on.
But Army research and development is falling by one-third, Heidi Shyu told reporters here at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference. And those accounts are “declining twice as fast as the [Army budget] top line,” Shyu noted, forcing the service to buy stretch out its purchases, buying fewer weapons over much longer periods. “It is,” she said, “an incredibly inefficient way to do business.”
The head of Army Materiel Command, Gen. Dennis Via, said at the same event that US overmatch — our technological and training superiority — is narrowing, especially as advanced technologies spread more rapidly and further around the world.
To cope with the stresses on acquisition, Shyu said the service has cut older systems, whacking 20,000 older trucks from the Army inventory, for example. And, of course, the R&D budget is dropping.
But she also told reporters that the Army is funding “spiral upgrades” to some existing weapons such as the Excalibur, a precision artillery shell that Raytheon says can do the job of 10 conventional artillery shells because of its superior accuracy.
Shyu got rolling when I asked her when the Army should begin fielding new platforms or if spiral upgrades to weapons were the way ahead. Her eyes flashed and she grew quite animated. The Army had to abandon the Ground Combat Vehicle, its premier modernization program, in the face of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, she said. While the program has been canceled, that requirement has not gone away. GCV wasn’t shuttered because of rising costs or technical problems. “It wasn’t the fact that we changed requirements, or that the contractor failed to deliver. It was the fact that we had a budget cut so significant we had to give up billions of dollars…. This was a very tough decision. It was not a decision the Army wanted to make,” Shyu said. “The sacrifice we made was due to sequestration.”
I asked if she brought this forceful message to Congress. “Every time I engage with Congress, I ask them please to end sequestration. Everyone I talk to says, learn to live with it because it’s here.” In the meantime, the Army will fund “critical enabling technologies” so that when sequestration is canceled or it ends, “we can develop the next generation of ground combat vehicles.”
Gen. Via added that other major requirements have suffered under the unremitting press of shrinking defense budgets. “We have requirements for airlift, for the next land platform,” he told me. “We are doing what we can with what we have.”
Shyu’s conclusion sat well with Brig. Gen. David Bassett, who oversees the big Army weapons like the Arbams tank, the Bradley personnel carrier, the new AMPV and the Stryker. “That narrative that says we don’t know how to deliver Army acquisition programs doesn’t resonant with me,” Bassett told a small group of reporters a few hours after Shyu.
The Army is keeping design teams working on GCV-type technologies, Bassett noted. When I pushed back and asked if the Army had to accept that it would keep doing spiral upgrades and put off developing new platforms for a long period — beyond the five years of the Program Objective Memorandum (as the budget is formally known) — he disagreed. “There’s a whole series of things we’d love to be able to do,” he said. “But the reality is we are resource-constrained.”
Instead, the money that would have been spent for GCV will be spent on upgrades to allow all the weapons that are fundamental to the Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCT), the service’s most lethal units, to fight together and be more effective, Bassett added. Years of benign neglect in the face of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant the Army’s conventional forces have seen their weapons get older and miss out on key Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance systems, more powerful engines, greater power generation, better protection against increasingly effective IEDs and improved guns — among other things. Bassett argued that the Army made a smart decision to can the GCV and instead rebuild the full range of the ABCT’s capabilities.
In other tidbits from her press conference today, Shyu said:
- “WIN-T testing is going really well. I’m going to the NIE to witness it myself.” She added that “we are looking at Plan B…” in case WIN-T’s well documented troubles cannot be surmounted;
- The Army is looking at the Brimstone missile as “an option” for the Joint Air To Ground Missile. MBDA Inc., the American subsidiary of the European missile defense company, makes the Brimstone missile. It uses a laser designator and a sophisticated radar to find its targets. It has been fired 300 times in Afghanistan and Libya and has a 98 percent strike rate, company officials say.. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are both competing for JAGM.
Most evocative — and plaintive — line of the day came from Shyu, speaking about the effects of sequestration: “How do you plan your life if your salary is unknown?” Don’t expect an answer from Capitol Hill any time soon.