Revolutionizing the Institutional Army

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In the summer of 2017, the Army Future Studies Group (AFSG) was tasked to analyze the state of the Army’s current modernization enterprise. Studies show the Army is approximately $9 billion below historical funding levels for modernization and 80% of its current spending goes to programs conceived before 9/11.  Past incremental changes to address organizational, process and regulatory issues are insufficient for the Army to maintain overmatch, limit surprise, or operate in multiple domains with a decisive edge over rising competitors. The Army required a radical change and that change is underway thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant General Ed Cardon. These decisions represent a revolutionary change in the Army’s modernization enterprise and parallel efforts must anchor the change into a credible and transparent organizational culture.

Concerns about the Army’s “innovative culture” was a major finding early on with the team of researchers in the AFSG. The Futures Command is set to stand up this summer, but a new mindset is being embraced already. Here are a few of the ideas and aspirations as the Army sets out to change its culture to be more innovative.

  1. Fail Early, Fail Small, and Learn Fast – to Win Always in the Future: The Army aims to inculcate a culture of experimentation where leaders underwrite risk and permit active and early learning from failure, often revisiting the direction of research and concepts. This is not to encourage failure, but rather focus on creating an empowered Army enterprise that benefits from the positive aspects of taking initiative and reaching desired as well as unexpected outcomes. How is this different from previous hype? A few examples include:
    • “Expert opinions” and heavily lobbied S&T and Warfighter Wants are replaced with well-informed and validated S&T investments and prioritized Warfighter Needs – hypotheses to validate requirements
    • Rapid maturation of prototypes derived from experimentation and early feedback inform better go/no-go decisions on new system development
  2. Bring Diverse Army Talent & Capability together Early and Often – and Prototype Repeatedly: The inherent construct and complexity of the current Army acquisition system, however unintentional, makes sharing of ideas, opportunities, and needs difficult and time-consuming. The Army has poor visibility inside itself, as well as to those earnestly wishing to connect from academic and industrial sectors.  Exploratory prototypes and technology demonstrators not only offer the opportunity to validate a potential technology or warfighter concept; they create dialogue and teams across otherwise disparate and disconnected elements of the Army enterprise (e.g., S&T, operating concepts, future forecasters, warfighters, and acquisition professionals).  New analytics and Army enterprise-wide information and data tools allow radically faster sharing and joint exploration of new scientific discoveries with warfighter concept developers and users. Early and continuous teaming leads to rapid compilation and digestion of vast inputs to enrich future predictions, prioritize gaps, and prudently vector future investments.
  3. Competition and Cooperation: The nation’s true strength is its economy, and this is a key principle of the recently released national security strategy. Investment strategies must balance economies of scale and comparative advantages with partners and allies to make cost-wise decisions.  The U.S. needs to expand its portfolio to not only buy smaller numbers of expensive equipment that is not interoperable with our partners. A new, adaptive and flexible acquisition system that is transparent and accessible to industry and academia across all scales – small, medium, and large – is the key to tapping the best ideas, talent, and unique regional assets and capabilities.
  4. Big Data Synthesis, Artificial Intelligence, and Deep Learning to Augment Army Decision Making: An unprecedented opportunity exists to augment and objectify strategic Army decision making, allowing leaders at all levels to rapidly sift through ever increasing amounts of data and accelerate the ability to acquire and field solutions, avoiding high cost overrun projects and drive evidence-based decisions.

These cultural changes will accelerate the shift away from Industrial Age thinking, and lead the Army and military to a future state of continued overmatch that will both win wars and deter them. The Army needs this change after its unrelenting focus on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency warfare after 9/11. The nearly $50 billion of canceled Army programs since 1995, an ever-accelerating pace and diversification of scientific discovery and technology development, and adversaries with a growing appetite to increasingly challenge the U.S. suggests the Army has no choice but to embark on this institutional revolution. The status quo is not an option, and the Secretary of Defense reminds that “we have to make sure we're not dominant and irrelevant at the same time: dominant in a form of warfare that is no longer relevant."

The first step in this revolution is allowing and exploiting failure by creating a new culture which rapidly learns from both failure and success, thereby increasing the conversion rate of ideas to maintain a decisive edge. It is time for the Army to fully transition from the Industrial Age to Information Age, and in so doing cultivate an environment that will deliver the right solutions at the right time for our soldiers and Army.

Arnel David is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army currently serving in the Army Future Studies Group as the Chief of Staff. He is a civil affairs officer and Army Strategist who recently returned from a deployment as the Commander’s Initiative Group Chief for Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan.

Dr. Shawn Walsh is a U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Fellow in the Army Future Studies Group and lead engineer from Army Research Labs in materials and manufacturing science and technology, with particular emphasis on Army Soldier, vehicle, and robotic platforms, applications, and protection.

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