There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

The deep future of U.S. Army procurement

I don’t think that I’ve talked about the future a lot in the tymshft blog. Much of my conversation has focused on the relationship between the present and the past.

But there are people who are looking into the future, and one of those people is U.S. Army acquisition official Heidi Shyu. As Federal News Radio reports, Shyu is looking beyond the Army’s current procurements for Iraq and Afghanistan. After that, what next?

Unlike in the 1990s, the threats we face have not receeded. As a matter of fact, they’ve grown more sophisticated. Then you add our reliance on a healthy industrial base for critical scientific, engineering and manufacturing skills that’s essential to our modernization efforts. We recognize that maintaining the Army’s leading edge in the future depends on this healthy industrial base.

In the past, the Defense Department has engaged in a five year planning cycle. (Hmm…just like the Commies used to do.) But now the Army wants to engage in “strategic modernization planning,” with a 30 year time horizon. Lt. General Keith Walker believes that this will be better for the Army:

Our warfight and our focus has been very short in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan. But some of the consequences of that, when you look at the capabilities required to execute those concepts, it’s a very short-term time horizon. So when the department has to plan and prepare a science and technology program, we’re not properly informing that effort because we’re so short. So we will step back and make a very deliberate effort to gather people from academia, industry and our own research and development communities and operators to get an understanding of what may physically be possible in the year 2030 or so, because honestly I don’t know. But once I understand what’s physically possible from the threat and what our own country can do, then we can talk about some concepts that are out there and we can better inform our science and technology effort.

Of course, such an effort assumes that the Army can predict the future with fair accuracy. Military.com raises doubts:

There are those who doubt such a long range modernization strategy as the [Pentagon] has repeatedly highlighted the military’s inability to predict future threats and capabilities accurately. The Army especially has suffered when trying to develop technological advances as evidenced by the failures in the Future Combat Systems program.

The Future Combat Systems program, launched in 2003, included an effort to develop a 27 ton manned ground vehicle. This effort was cancelled by the Army in 2009.

Part of the issue was that funding for FCS was reduced due to the short-term activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there was another reason:

The Democrat-controlled 110th Congress has been understandably skeptical of the FCS, whose prime contractor is Boeing, because of its cost, complexity and the vast leaps in the dark on cutting edge, untried technologies that it contemplates.

But by definition, any modernization effort is going to rely on “cutting edge, untried technologies.” This suggests that the most serious threat to strategic modernization planning may be…ourselves. How can we engage in a 30 year modernization plan when the people charged with funding it are in two-year, four-year, and six-year election cycles?

Oh well. At least the government is still better off than publicly traded companies. Their equivalent to the election cycle is the required quarterly reporting. If you…um, tank in a particular quarter, your leadership may be “voted out of office”…and incumbency is of no help here.

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