“Our competitors are seeking to alter global strategic realities for their own benefit, often at the expense of U.S. interests and those of our allies and partners,” said the Army’s secretary.
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper testified Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. He discussed, among other things, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, acquisition reform, the threat environment, and deterrence efforts in Europe.
Lawmakers quizzed the secretary about the Army’s efforts in Europe to deter Russian aggression.
The European Deterrence Initiative, he replied, is doing just that by reassuring allies and deterring aggression. He offered a number of examples.
Esper said that during a recent trip to Europe, he was heartened to see members of the Illinois National Guard training in Poland and Soldiers from the New York NG in Ukraine. That is deeply reassuring to allies, he noted.
Also important to deterrence, he said, is the Army’s commitment to keeping an armored brigade combat team in Europe on a rotational basis.
The current ABCT in Europe is the 2nd ABCT of the 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kansas. They replaced the 3rd ABCT of the 4th Inf. Div. out of Fort Carson, Colorado in October. A combat aviation brigade is also there to support the maneuver force.
Esper said those ABCTs are on nine-month rotations, and he said he expects that to continue, on a “heel-to-toe” basis, pending further assessment on the efficacy of using rotational forces vice permanent stationing.
The secretary also said he was gratified to see NATO allies Poland, the United Kingdom and Italy training with U.S. forces at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, in Grafenwoehr, Germany, during a recent visit there.
Also, he said he observed U.S. and NATO training in Poland and remarked that NATO Enhanced Forward Presence battle groups are at the tip of the spear in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which is up against the Russian border.
During his visit to Europe, Esper said he also got to go inside a Stryker and speak with Soldiers about its newly enhanced capabilities, including a 30mm cannon that will increase its lethality and a double-V hull for added protection. He noted that the funding was quickly made available through an “urgent operational needs” request.
Esper said he’s particularly heartened that Congress has increased EDI funding over the last several years.
The FY17 budget provided $3.4 billion for EDI . The amount requested in FY18 was $4.8 billion and the amount requested for FY19 was $6.5 billion, according to the “DOD EDI Budget Request” report, published by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) in February 2018.
The majority of the funding goes to the Army, which has the largest land force in Europe with about 30,000 Soldiers. As such, of the FY19 DOD EDI request of $6.5 billion, the Army’s share is $4.6 billion.
That money is used for such things as personnel costs, training, exercises, prepositioning supplies, electronic warfare and cyber countermeasures, equipment and munitions, improving infrastructure and building partner capacity, according to the report.
Asked about challenges in Europe, the secretary responded that there continues to be problems with troops crossing borders of NATO nations due to strict border controls. Also, roads and bridges in Eastern Europe are often inadequate to support heavy ABCT vehicles like tanks.
Esper also provided testimony on a number of other issues.
Importance of Women
Women are now successfully entering the combat arms branches, Esper said, adding that he spoke recently to some of those women at Fort Bragg and the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
A big benefit to women, and for men as well, will be improvement in the talent management arena, he said.
The Army is now getting ready to field the Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Army, which will, among other things, allow the Army to document a much wider array of talent than what it currently does.
The first phase of IPPS-A will be fielded by the Army National Guard this fall and in the active and Army Reserve components next year.
Futures Command
A majority of Esper’s testimony was spent discussing Futures Command and the money and time it would save in getting badly needed Army priorities through requirements to fielding, particularly in the six focus areas of: long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality.
Esper said the Futures Command would reform the Army’s acquisition effort and instill accountability in the process, since it will be in a unified command when it is stood up this summer.
Also, better decision making will occur, he predicted, because everyone will have a seat at the table early on in the process, from program managers and contract specialists, to invited members of industry and academia.
Lawmakers noted that although this hearing was about the FY19 budget, the elephant in the room was that Congress has yet to pass the FY18 budget.
Esper agreed, and said that operating under a continuing resolution for nearly six months limits funding for training and reduces the number of seats at Army schools. Continuing resolutions also limit the munitions that can be purchased and lowers readiness, Esper said.
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who also testified, agreed with Esper and reminded lawmakers that the military services are not yet out of the woods on the Budget Control Act of 2011, aka sequestration.
She bluntly stated that the effects of sequestration have done more damage to U.S. security than that inflicted by its enemies.