The Army chief of staff’s No. 1 priority means a lot of different things to different people. For the acquisition community, many agree that supporting readiness calls for a cradle-to-grave understanding of the systems being acquired, not just their procurement.
by Mr. Steve Stark, Ms. Margaret C. Roth and Mr. Michael Bold
Readiness is in the air. It’s a watchword of current U.S. military strategy, the subject of constant media attention, congressional deliberation and internal discussion among the armed forces and our allies: Is the U.S. ready to face off and win against North Korea? Russia? China? Iran? How about violent extremist groups? The concept is not just an abstraction: For everyone who works to support the Soldiers who could go into harm’s way at any time in our defense against the “four plus one,” readiness is a matter of life and death.
That may be difficult to translate into the day-to-day management of Army acquisition, logistics and technology. But for the acquisition professional, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s No. 1 priority—“there is no other #1,” he has said—essentially means at all times ensuring that the Army has the capabilities to successfully execute its role in the event of a challenge to U.S. interests.
Of the four-plus-one challenges, “We have to be able to deal with two of the four named countries simultaneously, or near simultaneously, and one of them we have to defeat and the other we have to deny,” Milley told an audience at the U.S. Army Reserve Command Senior Leader Conference in April 2016 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “At the same time, you have to maintain your current level of effort against the counterterrorist fight and you have to protect the homeland. That’s for the U.S. military, not just the Army.”
Talk to any randomly chosen person involved in the military, and readiness could mean having enough people … the right equipment … appropriate training … enough modeling and simulation … proper testing … adequate maintenance … reliable sustainment … or, a universal theme, enough money. Achieving any of those, in turn, is subject to politics, bureaucracy, endless acquisition regulations and the organizational culture of the military—the constants of getting things done in DOD.
Readiness is “what the entire department [DOD] does,” said Dr. Laura Junor in a July 10 interview with Army AL&T. For Junor, a former senior defense readiness official who holds a Ph.D. in applied microeconomics, the military is one massive and massively complex supply chain serving up a single product: “to secure the nation’s defense,” she said. For everyone along that supply chain, readiness represents distinct priorities.
NO ‘FIRE AND FORGET’
What to do to make Army acquisition ready? As Junor sees it, readiness for the acquisition community “is recognizing that acquiring a weapon system or even a Soldier is not the end, it’s the beginning. Unless we buy that with all of its spares, with a full understanding of what it’s going to take to make that capability deployable when we need it, we’re not being effective.” So, for example, in buying a new weapon system, that means understanding “the training requirements, what type of people you need, especially now as we’re moving into a new and exciting realm of unmanned systems.”
All of those long-term costs should be factored in on the front end of the acquisition process, Junor said, so that “we buy something that we know how to keep operating.” Otherwise, the risk is what she described as a “fire and forget” approach to acquisition program management. “I ask that [project managers] make sure to consider not just the specs of the weapon but all of the things that are involved in the sustainment of that capability going forward: the type of the labor that’s required, the training, the spares and the maintenance.”
After years in “the building,” as Junor and many others call the Pentagon, she is director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University. She served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) as deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, where she built the foundation of OSD’s current readiness and training portfolio. Before her current post, she was principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Junor understands readiness not just on the academic level but also on a personal level. While she was living in Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. During the preceding years, she said, “the country was still so reeling from 9/11 that any tiny little town that wanted a big communication bus with satellites and all that—they got front-end funding for that.” The problem was the absence of any kind of sustainment funding.
When Katrina hit in 2005, “a whole bunch of those buses were sitting in vacant lots because [of] what they didn’t have,” she said. “They didn’t have people to operate or keep them going. And where that seems an extreme example, it’s really not that extreme. It happens on a more subtle level throughout the department every day.”
THE VIEW FROM ACQUISITION
From where retired Army acquisition officers John T. Dillard and Raymond D. Jones sit, with the benefit of long-distance hindsight, the first step in figuring out acquisition’s role in readiness is to understand what it isn’t. Both retired colonels now teach at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). The next step is to define how the acquisition workforce can sync up more effectively with the other major players early and often in the acquisition process, while recognizing that certain essential factors—namely funding—are outside the control of Army acquisition.
Dillard fundamentally agreed with Junor’s observations based on his Army experience. Before joining the faculty of NPS’ Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Dillard, senior lecturer, held a variety of Army acquisition assignments, including assistant project manager for the Army Tactical Missile System and the Javelin Anti-Tank Missile System.
Jones, a lecturer in acquisition management at NPS, served nearly 30 years in the Army, culminating in his assignment as the deputy program executive officer for the Joint Tactical Radio System, a program since reorganized. Army AL&T editors discussed readiness with Dillard and Jones in a July 11 phone interview.
Dillard referred to “Army Regulation [AR] 220-1, Army Unit Status Reporting and Force Registration – Consolidated Policies,” which establishes the Defense Readiness Reporting System – Army, among other things, to break readiness down into three major components: personnel, equipment and training. In the course of his 26-year Army career, he grew familiar with AR 220-1 as head of the readiness reporting branch of the 6th U.S. Army, comprising National Guard and Reserve units in about 15 Western states.
Acquisition’s piece of the readiness picture is primarily equipment, Dillard said: “Do I have the vehicles, weapons and other things on hand versus authorized, and are they in a state of ability to be used? Acquisition certainly affects the training piece, training devices and other things, but largely it’s the equipment piece, more so than the personnel piece. It’s the design of our systems, which is really important for reliability and availability and maintainability so that the equipment portion of the readiness rating is as high as it can be and stays that way.”
THE REQUIREMENTS FACTOR
Designing systems involves the requirements community, too, of course. But the acquisition community can influence the shape and scope of requirements to a significant extent, said Dillard and Jones. In the case of an armored vehicle, for example, “the number of hours, the number of track paths, the number of gallons of gasoline burned—those kinds of things can be variable,” Dillard said.
“The need is what it is. The materiel developer doesn’t get a vote when it comes to the need,” Jones said. “Where we do get a vote is how the need is developed. We’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning of the process” to best support readiness.
Program managers (PMs) tend to focus on awarding the right contracts and complying with acquisition regulations, Jones noted. “We don’t spend a lot of time saying to ourselves, ‘If you had just changed that design, or if we had done it this way, we wouldn’t have had to add one more hour of training on the back end,’ and that training then impacts the personnel community and the finance community, etc.,” he said.
“We kind of understand the complexity and the level of effort it’s going to take to sustain that [system] at a high level of readiness for the user, because of what the future war fight environment is going to look like. Where we tend to start to break down—and I’m not going to blame the requirement system because that would be too simplistic—is that we don’t collaborate between the materiel developer and the combat developer sufficiently to understand the impacts of the design or the thing that we’re asking for.”
A good place to begin in balancing requirements, Jones said, are the 12 integrated product support elements.
“You start asking the people developing these ideas, ‘How is that going to look in the sustained base? What is the level of training burden that we’re asking?’ Everybody is off doing their job, but it’s not synchronized because we didn’t spend enough [on what] I’ll just call systems engineering early on.”
Over the past 20 years, requirements have grown more realistic, and Army acquisition has absorbed gradually more responsibility for long-term logistics, Dillard said. But a PM still has to balance a long product cycle with a relatively short time on the job, he noted. “It’s unforeseen how much the system is going to get used, it’s unforeseen what’s going to be the weak part. And so it’s a bit of a crystal-ball type problem,” Dillard said.
“We just have to make sure that the stuff that goes into that system view, which supports the operational view, meets the requirement that we’re given. … In that regard, we [in acquisition] view it differently because we’re looking at it through a tighter lens”—namely reduction of total ownership cost, which “can be huge,” from invention to procurement to sustainment, Dillard continued.
“But somebody has to build the architecture … and if you go into a room of users and materiel developers and services and you ask who owns that operational view, everybody would raise their hand,” he said.
THE MONEY FACTOR
In addition to their inability to control a system’s long-term sustainment needs, defense acquisition PMs must work within a number of financial constraints that limit their ability to guarantee readiness.
“The brutal, honest truth of the matter is, PMs only control two colors of money: R&D [research and development] money and production money. It’s the units that spend that O&M [operation and maintenance] money every year,” Dillard said. “And that’s where your real readiness is, because that’s where your operational availability is, in terms of spare parts, gallons of gas, things like that.
“We’re not going to go dig up a PM 10 years later and beat him because a vehicle costs more to operate than he said it would when he was designing it,” Dillard said. Rather, “we’re asking the users to constrain their requirements by cost and affordability that can only be informed by people on the acquisition side saying, ‘Well, you want it to go 90 miles per hour, it’s going to cost this much; if you want to go 95 miles per hour, it’s going to cost this much.’ ”
If the inability to predict a system’s future use weren’t a tough enough challenge for the acquisition community, there have been serious problems of unpredictable funding over the past several years, which have derailed the ability of the Army and DOD to plan for readiness, or even measure current readiness, in a rational way.
However, Junor said, “budgets didn’t create our readiness crisis. But they made a hard problem, for a finite period of time, impossible to solve. And now I’ll back up and say difficult to solve. … These readiness pipelines don’t pop out. It’s not a gumball machine where you stick in 25 cents and boom, you’ve got a readiness capability. It takes a minute to grow our forces, especially since … we grow our own.”
THE READINESS CRISIS
For years, DOD leaders have warned of a readiness crisis born of a perfect storm of partisan politics, 16 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rising peer and near-peer potential adversaries. “Our first priority is continuing to improve warfighter readiness begun in 2017, filling in the holes from trade-offs made during 16 years of war, nine years of continuing resolutions and Budget Control Act caps,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee in June.
Continuing resolutions, forced by Congress’ failure to pass appropriations bills on time and required to keep the government running, hold spending to prior-year enacted levels and stop any new programs that were not previously funded. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposed a projected $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, divided evenly between defense and discretionary domestic spending.
“The services are essentially operating in three fiscal quarters per year now,” Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2016. “Nobody schedules anything important in the first quarter.”
“Failure to pass the budget, in my view as an American citizen and the chief of staff of the United States Army, constitutes professional malpractice,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee in April.
While the U.S. has been battling nonstate foes such as al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Islamic State group, China, Russia, North Korea and Iran have been closing the technology gap that U.S. forces demonstrated to such great effect during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. “While we’ve been primarily focused on the threat of violent extremism, our adversaries and our potential adversaries have developed advanced capabilities and operational approaches specifically designed to limit our ability to project power,” Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee in June.
Asked at a September 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing whether they “would have resources and ability to defend this nation against present and future threats if we continue down this path of sequestration,” the four joint chiefs—Milley, Richardson, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein—answered emphatically: No.
“The only thing more expensive than deterrence is actually fighting a war,” Milley told the committee, “and the only thing more expensive than fighting a war is fighting one and losing one.”
“Over the same eight-year period in which we reduced the Army by 100,000 Soldiers, continuing resolutions and constrained funding under the Budget Control Act of 2011 forced us to pay short-term bills at the expense of long-term investments,” Milley and then-Acting Secretary of the Army Robert. M. Speer said in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. “A consequence of underfunding modernization for over a decade is an Army potentially outgunned, outranged, and outdated on a future battlefield with near-peer competitors.”
Invoking a phrase coined by retired Army Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen, former vice chief of staff of the Army and former commander in chief of U.S. Army Europe, Dillard said readiness is “the lion in the fight” for limited resources, while the jackal is acquisition, trying to sow the seed corn for future modernization efforts.
Kroesen, now a senior fellow of the Institute of Land Warfare at the Association of the United States Army, sees Army readiness in a “dire” situation. “The downslope that began at the end of the Cold War has not been interrupted ever since, and the past eight years did nothing but deepen the curve,” he said in response to questions from Army AL&T. “Army readiness today is limited to only a portion of the total force, those committed to the combat requirements being pursued.”
Meanwhile, he wrote, “the portion of the Army stationed in the U.S. is in many stages of unreadiness and the future of the Army is in grave doubt because the R&D portion of the budget has been badly depreciated for the last almost 30 years. Yes, the situation is dire,” Kroesen said. “The current administration’s proposals are only the first baby steps in what will be a long climb to a true ready capability.”
Ultimately, the Army Acquisition Workforce supports the warfighter’s readiness to fight by understanding, balancing and, to the extent they are able, incorporating the warfighter’s capability needs in system design and production.
“The combatant commanders are very much go-to-war oriented today—we used to say ‘tomorrow’—and they don’t think about the long-term impacts” of system design, Dillard said. “Who does? Don’t you always turn down the warranty when a guy is selling you the washing machine or the television? Nobody thinks about the operations-and-support end of it.
“It’s very human, I think, to push that off, and it’s human on the part of the PM, too: The [logistics] support manager comes in and says, ‘Hey let’s talk about logistics,’ and the PM is saying, ‘Are you kidding me? I just want to demonstrate vertical flight.’ ”
In sum, then, can the Army fulfill its No. 1 priority, to be able to put Soldiers where they need to be, when they’re needed, with the capabilities that they need?
“Can we do what we need to do today plus that whole four-plus-one? Simultaneously, no,” Junor said. “We’ve never been able to do that. So then the smart issue is, all right, what can we do? We have two responsibilities, to target specific production pipelines to cover as many of those requirements as possible, and to very clearly articulate what we’ve missed and why that matters.”
As to the role of Army acquisition, she said, “We’re pretty harsh on them—the global ‘we’—because of the extreme stories that come out about the cost and the slow pace and all that kind of stuff. But we also aren’t fair in that we don’t come to them with steady, predictable requirements for them to respond to.”
“Put yourself in the warfighter’s shoes for a second,” Jones said: “I know what my mission is, I know what I’ve got. We’ve got to fight with what we have. We put a plan together, and we execute our plan.” That crystal-clear operational environment is one thing, but outside of it, things are much more ambiguous. “There are going to be changes out there that you didn’t anticipate. And so when we approach these programs, we need to put those things into our thought process. What happens if, for example, we have a depression in five years? What happens if Congress decides to do something weird, like a sequestration that nobody believed would ever happen and then all of a sudden it happens? We spend more time arguing and fighting those things than we do just recognizing that that’s just part of the environment. I think the process is fine. It’s how we implement the process.”
Junor echoed that sentiment. For her, one of the issues with readiness is DOD itself. “DOD is a big traditional institution,” she said. “It does not move fast. So when you ask it to change direction, it doesn’t do it quickly, it just doesn’t.” Readiness means money, and when money is tight, the services fight over it. Not only that, the services fight themselves.
“And the problem is that our military folks change jobs every few years,” she said. “So in order for them to make a change like this, they’re going to have to go to war inside their organization with probably all the people who have been there for a long time that are wedded to the status quo, and most won’t do that. They just won’t do it.”
Ms. Mary Kate Aylward, Army AL&T magazine contributing editor, contributed to this article.
STEVE STARK is senior editor of Army AL&T magazine. He holds an M.A. in creative writing from Hollins University and a B.A. in English from George Mason University. In addition to more than two decades of editing and writing about the military, science and technology, he is, as Stephen Stark, the bestselling ghostwriter of several consumer health oriented books and an award-winning novelist.
MARGARET C. ROTH is an editor of Army AL&T magazine. She has more than a decade of experience in writing about the Army and more than three decades’ experience in journalism and public relations. Roth is a MG Keith L. Ware Public Affairs Award winner and a co-author of the book “Operation Just Cause: The Storming of Panama.” She holds a B.A. in Russian language and linguistics from the University of Virginia.
Mr. Michael Bold provides contract support to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center. He is a writer/editor for Network Runners Inc., with more than 30 years of editing experience at newspapers, including the McClatchy Washington Bureau, The Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He holds a B.J. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
This article is published in the October – December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.
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