The Modernization the Army Needs Can Be Found at the AUSA Annual Conference

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The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) held its annual meeting and exhibition this week in Washington, DC. It is one of the largest and most comprehensive events in the world showcasing the breadth of military technologies relevant to ground operations. In recent years, AUSA meetings became the seminal venues where Army leaders unveiled major conceptual and organizational reforms. Similarly, industry and the research establishments used the opportunity to display some of their most innovative new ideas in everything from meals and uniforms to small arms, ammunition, unmanned air and ground platforms, and even prototypes of new combat vehicles.

This year was no different. The head of the Army’s new Futures Command, General John Murray gave a bravura performance before a packed auditorium. He also headed a panel that brought together other key players in Army modernization: Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) Dr. Bruce D. Jette to discuss how the reorganization would speed up the acquisition process. Leaders of the eight Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) and key program managers were present to discuss their specific requirements and ideas.

Walking the exhibit halls, one can see and even touch examples of the most advanced platforms and systems the Army is deploying, considering acquiring, or has in development. Industry used the event to showcase many innovative technologies, concepts and even prototypes of future platforms and weapons systems.

This experience leads me to ask a simple question: is it possible that the Army could find much of what it needs to initially address its modernization priorities on the exhibit floor at the AUSA convention?

This is a particularly important question given the tight timelines the Army has imposed on its modernization efforts. Through 2022, it wants to complete current upgrade programs, at least for those forces likely to face a peer competitor, while conducting R&D on next-generation capabilities. After that, the focus shifts to the production of new platforms and systems that will be fielded in the late 2020s.

Take the top priority of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle CFT: to develop prototypes of a replacement for the venerable Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Army wants to field the new vehicle by 2026, which means it has to enter production in 2022 or 2023. Major defense firms have invested their own resources in developing competitive prototypes to meet this requirement. Present on the exhibit floor was the General Dynamics’ Griffin III, with a 50mm gun, advanced electronics, and powertrain and a capacity to carry six soldiers. A new entrant into this space is Raytheon which has teamed with the German company Rheinmetall. Their Lynx prototype, which looks like the Batmobile with a gun turret, can carry nine soldiers. BAE Systems brought a variant of its CV90 MkIV, which can carry a 40mm gun as well as eight soldiers and be optionally manned. Several of the companies vying for the contract to build the Army’s Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle are considering proposing variants of this system as a Bradley replacement.

The timeline for new longer-range fire systems is even tighter. Initially, the Army didn’t expect to get a longer-range missile in the field until the late 2020s, at the earliest. Now, it hopes to begin testing a Precision Strike Missile capable of reaching out 499 kilometers next year with fielding to begin by 2022 or 2023. The reason for this new-found optimism is the development work done by the two principal contenders in this area, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Both companies had displays of their designs at AUSA.

Another major Army priority is aviation modernization. You couldn’t help stopping at the Bell Helicopter exhibit with its full-size mock-up of the V-280 Valor tiltrotor aircraft. The Valor will be capable of going faster and farther than existing utility and attack helicopters with heavier loads.

For those interested in enhancements to existing rotary wing platforms, both the Advanced Turbine Engine Company and General Electric had booths that displayed their entrants in the Improved Turbine Engine Program intended to provide a new power plant for the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.

In the area of air and missile defenses the Army has begun to address the near-term requirement for an improved defense against aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with the reactivation of the Humvee-mounted Avenger program and the selection of Leonardo DRS to provide the Interim Mobile Short-Range Air Defense system deployed on a Stryker vehicle. At the exhibition, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were showcasing advances to their Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems. Lockheed Martin also had on display its new AN/TPQ-53 counter rocket, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) radar.

As the exhibit demonstrated, dozens of companies have entered the counter-UAS space. IXI Technology and Battelle were present with advanced hand-held systems capable of jamming a UAS’s electronics. Israeli Aerospace Industries showed off both its man-portable counter-UAS systems as well as sophisticated strike drones. Sierra Nevada Corporation, a leader in the area of electronic warfare, has advanced capabilities in both counter-UAS and counter-radio-controlled improvised explosive devices.

The AUSA exhibition provided the Army with no end of options for improving its networks. For example, Rockwell Collins, a leader in airborne and maritime radios, has moved into the ground radio space with its advanced, multi-channel software-defined man-pack radio. Its main competitor in this space, Harris Corporation, also was present. General Dynamics continues to offer advances in on-the-move communications, satcoms, networked solutions, and vehicle electronic architectures.

Military modernization is a process of continual change. Fortunately, while the Pentagon was forced to take a 20-year procurement holiday, the aerospace and defense industry continued to work on new concepts and capabilities. They also learned how to adapt commercial technologies to the military’s needs. As a result, the Army may have found much of what it needs to jump-start modernization at the AUSA annual conference.

Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.

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