General McConville for CSA Means Army Modernization Will Continue
On Tuesday the White House announced the nomination of General James McConville to be the next Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army (CSA). In his current position as Vice Chief of Staff, McConville has been helping to lead the charge on Army modernization. Along with current CSA General Mark Milley, Army Secretary Mark Esper and Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy, McConville has been personally and daily managing the effort to transform the Army into a 21st Century fighting force. He has been intimately involved in virtually all critical decisions, including the so-called “Night Court” that cut funding for or canceled 186 current acquisition programs to free up some $30 billion for higher priority modernization efforts. With McConville’s elevation, and that of General Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff it is all but certain that the drive for dramatic change, not just in the Army but across all the Services, will continue.
There is a tendency in this country’s Military Services for the focus of force development and modernization to shift with changes in the top leadership. The one exception is the Marine Corps, whose leadership has held steadfast to a vision of itself as the Nation’s 911 force for crisis response and its first line of defense in the event of war. The Army has been buffeted over the past 25 years by competing and even incompatible visions of the future of conflict. The result has been a series of spectacular acquisition failures. If the current modernization strategy is to produce concrete improvements in platforms and equipment, it must be continued beyond General Milley's tenure.
General McConville is personally committed to continuing the modernization effort initiated by CSA Milley and Secretary Esper. Even more important, he has worked the process of transforming Army acquisition every day for more than two years. As his colleague in transformation, Under Secretary McCarthy, pointed out: “He’s been central to this effort. He can go toe to toe with acquisitions executives. At every wicket in the modernization process, he adds tremendous value.”
General McConville was a major architect of the Army’s Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs) and its new Futures Command (FC). He understands the importance of bringing all the stakeholders and decisionmakers together to reduce acquisition timelines and lower development costs. General McConville described the process thusly:
“We're bringing together the operators, the sustainers, and the Acquisition Corps. We're having them work very closely in developing requirements. Because they're coordinating so closely, it will cut years from the time it actually takes to produce requirements.
It's also paying dividends with some of the systems that have recently gone into the acquisition phase. The fact that we're keeping the operators and acquisition professionals together throughout the process is allowing us to get a product that the operators want and that acquisition professionals can acquire in a timely manner.”
Like the Service’s other senior leaders, General McConville is committed to forcing the Army to change its acquisition system. His promotion makes it impossible for those in the acquisition bureaucracy opposed to reforms to merely wait out General Milley's term in the hope that the next CSA will want to temper or even abandon the reform effort.
Another reason to applaud President Trump's decision to nominate General McConville is time. To put it simply, the U.S. military, in general, is running out of time when it comes to ensuring that its modernization plans will bear fruit, meaning that new platforms and capabilities will actually be developed and that there will be sufficient money in the Army budget to cover the inevitable procurement bow-wave to come. The Army is seeking to produce its first tranche of new capabilities, such as the Extended Range Cannon Artillery, by the early 2020s. It will be General McConville who must see the current modernization strategy through to the actual bending of metal.
The newly nominated CSA will have to balance investing in entirely new platforms and systems while judiciously upgrading existing capabilities. At current production rates, it will take decades to change out the Army's large fleets of armored fighting vehicles, aircraft, artillery and missiles. In some cases, such as that of the Abrams main battle tank and Apache attack helicopter, it makes more sense to modernize the current platform, rather than overreach in search of a new one.
General McConville understands that modernizing the Army is about more than just the acquisition of a new tank, aircraft, artillery piece or communications network. The Army’s entire logistics and sustainment system must also be transformed. The Army will need a distributed logistics system that can rapidly and reliably deliver supplies to fast moving and dispersed formations without creating targetable signatures. General McConville knows that sustainment must be revolutionized to allow increasingly sophisticated weapons systems and equipment to be maintained by crew chiefs and mechanics in the field.
As an aviator, General McConville might want to give priority to the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. He is currently the senior mentor for the FVL Cross-Functional Team. FVL’s goal is to produce next-generation aerial platforms with greater range, speed, endurance and lethality than existing helicopters. More than a decade of investment has produced prototypes for advanced aircraft, the V-280 Valor, and SB-1 Defiant. But the Army isn’t planning to begin acquiring a new attack/reconnaissance helicopter until 2028 and a new medium-lift aircraft to replace the venerable Blackhawk until the mid-2030s. Many experts believe that the Army could accelerate the FVL program by five to ten years. In view of the evolving threat and uncertainty regarding future defense budgets, General McConville might want to pay particular attention to making FVL a more timely reality.
General McConville will take the Army’s helm at possibly the most consequential time for the Service in almost a century. If the current modernization plan cannot be accomplished in full and on time the Army may not have the time for a “do over.” It is good that the White House decided to put such a capable and experienced officer in charge of the Army.
Dan 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.