In a recent speech, Army Under Secretary Joseph Westphal made public one of Washington’s worst kept secrets: the Army’s acquisition system is broken. Over the past two decades, the Army has experienced a continuous record of failure in major acquisition programs. This has been particularly true for ground combat vehicles. Other than the Stryker, which was originally an “interim” solution on the way to the Future Combat System (FCS), the Army has not had a successful vehicle program in some twenty years.
This record of failure is all the more striking in view of the Army’s relative success with rapid acquisition of a variety of platforms and systems. The best known are the MRAP and M-ATV protected vehicles. But in many ways the acquisition of soldier clothing and individual equipment has been even more successful. PEO Soldier has demonstrated the ability to rapidly develop and deploy a range of new capabilities including remote weapons stations, enhanced low light/night vision goggles, man-portable robots, laser designators and cold weather clothing. Collaboration with third-party product integrators has resulted in an ability to rapidly meet a wide range of urgent operational needs for clothing and equipment at relatively low cost.
The question still unanswered is whether the broken peacetime acquisition system can be fixed. The Army has two major procurements coming soon. The first is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the successor to the Future Combat System. The second is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) intended as the replacement for the lighter and less well protected Humvee. The GCV program has already been halted and restarted once. There are recent reports that the JLTV may be afflicted with that dreaded disease which has killed many Army programs in the recent past: changing requirements. The cost of the individual GCVs and JLTVs may also be a “killer.”
What appears at the heart of the problem with Army acquisition is an inability to clearly connect system requirements to doctrine and tactics. There is no driving concept of future conflict which results in a vision of a future force and, from there, a definition of what kinds of systems are needed.
In addition, the Army has a habit of funding way more R&D programs than it can ever successfully bring to procurement. As a result, there are always better ideas in the laboratory than whatever is being procured today.
The keys to the success of the rapid fielding activities have been speed, simplicity and a reliance on the private sector to get things done. Fewer requirements are better. The Army applied this approach in the GCV request for proposal. We will see whether it will be the first example of a new Army acquisition system or merely the latest casualty of the old one.
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