Army Buying Needs ‘Big Bang’

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a room packed with several hundred U.S Army officers, representatives of foreign militaries and contractors that he is very worried about the service's acquisition system and believes it may take a "big bang" to fix it. "I don't understand how we can take eight to 10 years or even longer and put something on the street and have it be relevant," he said. "I'm a firm believer that it's going to take the big bang theory."

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a room packed with several hundred U.S Army officers, representatives of foreign militaries and contractors that he is very worried about the service’s acquisition system and believes it may take a “big bang” to fix it.

“I don’t understand how we can take eight to 10 years or even longer and put something on the street and have it be relevant,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m a firm believer that it’s going to take the big bang theory.”

Two reporters — including me — tagged after Chiarelli to ask him about his comment because it certainly sounded as if the general was ready to scrap the existing system and build one that could turn out weapons in a few years instead of a decade or so. But he told us that he didn’t necessarily want to scrap the existing system but that we must have a system that works better and delivers high-quality weapons in a reasonable amount of time.

But if you’d been there you would have gotten the strong impression that Chiarelli is really frustrated with the slow pace of change and the repeated problems with Army programs. If you want to tick off the list of major Army program that have either been cancelled by the Pentagon or “withdrawn” by the Army, it gets pretty impressive: Comanche, ARH, FCS, GCV. That is a huge proportion of the major new weapons programs the Army has tried to get off the ground for almost 15 years.

So when the “modernization panel” Chiarelli led went off to speak with reporters, I asked Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of TRADOC’s Army Capabilities Integration Center at TRADOC, Lt. Gen. James Pillsbury, deputy commander at Army Materiel Command, Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy chief of staff, and Lt. Gen. William N. Phillips military deputy for the assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology when the Army was going to fix the system, especially given Chiarelli’s statement about it needing a “big bang.” Publicly, they said the system is beginning to turn around. They are doing many more weapons purchases that rely on small steps instead of giant technological leaps. They are trying to be much more careful about their stewardship of the taxpayers’ money by reexamining RFPs and making sure they will produce the systems needed by the Army.

One senior officer told me after the panel broke up that they know the system needs to change and that the Army has taken a very long time to shift to new paradigms.

One of the key new tools, Chiarelli said, will be the service’s “portfolio reviews,” where they compare systems with overlapping missions and compare their costs and benefits, will provide an important part of the new model for the service. Already, they played a key role in helping the Army find $28 billion in those vaunted efficiencies mandated by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in overhead and low-priority programs over the next five years to meet a goal set by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Chiarelli said a “key lesson learned” during the portfolio review is that “requirements have to be revisited much more frequently than they have been in the past.” That will mean more turbulence for programs in some ways, industry observers said at the AUSA show, but it will also mean shorter production times, much quicker passage to initial operational capability and many more upgrades — with their opportunity for value added components — as programs progress.

One of the key tools for the Army and for industry as they plow ahead on this new road, will be the common operating environment standards (which Chiarelli said were released Tuesday), which will show industry and the Army exactly how systems and sensors will connect to the emerging Army network. And the network, as Chiarelli noted, is the service’s top modernization priority, followed by the Ground Combat Vehicle.