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Transformation on track, Army leaders tell Senators

Army News Service

Release Date: 3/24/2004

By Spc. Lorie Jewell

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 24, 2004) - Senior Army leaders gave emphatic assurances that efforts to transform the Army and properly equip the current force fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are at top speed during their recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services' Subcommittee on Airland.

Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said that while they support the Army's transformation plans, they are concerned about the cost of developing future combat systems while concurrently restructuring and modernizing the current force.

"I am concerned that current operations will create resource challenges that can adversely affect transformation,'' Sessions said.

Claude Bolton Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the money being spent on changing the current force into a future force is closely managed. Leaders are mindful of the need to strike a balance between what they need for the future and current needs with available resources, Bolton said.

Bolton added that since he took his position three years ago, 30 programs have been cut.

"I think we've done that well, based upon feedback I've gotten from the Congress, industry and the Army,'' Bolton said. "And that is to put funds where we need it for the current force as well as the future force."

Army vice chief of staff Gen. George Casey acknowledged "the pendulum has swung" from the future back to the current, but stressed that Army leaders are planning and implementing change with minds focused on maintaining program stability for the future combat systems. He added that the Army fully intends to stick to its budget.

With all of the activity going on - 325,000 Soldiers deployed in 120 countries combined with the mobilization of more than 150,000 National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers, Casey said it may not seem like the best time to undertake fundamental change across the Army.

"But we think it's just the opposite,'' Casey said. "It's an opportunity we can't pass up."

The Army is working toward three main goals, Casey said: reduce stresses on the force, improve capabilities and transform into a more versatile, agile, joint and expeditionary force in the current decade.

The major initiatives to make that happen, he added, are rebalancing the active and reserve component forces to improve strategic flexibility; reorganizing combat formations into modular brigade-based units to improve self-sufficiency and facilitate force packaging; and a force stabilization program to increase unit readiness, reduce personnel turbulence and make life more predictable for Soldiers, units and families.

"What we are doing now, we intend to set us up for the future force,'' Casey said.

Casey said the fiscal year 2005 budget request will give combatant commanders the land power capabilities they need to fight the global war on terror, facilitate homeland defense, and continue to meet worldwide commitments. It also covers the transformation program, base operations and 15 critical recapitalization systems. The budget request does not fund ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan or recovery from those missions, the general added.

Lieberman said he is worried the cost factor won't allow the Army to do everything it's aiming for. He noted that while the Army received $42 billion of the $65 billion in fiscal year 2004 supplemental appropriations, it still had to deal with close to $3 billion in war-related requirements that were not funded. In the Army's fiscal year 2005 budget request, the unfunded priorities list totals $6 billion, which includes $2.4 billion for modularity requirements and $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2004 reset shortfalls, Lieberman said.

Additionally, Lieberman said he has heard estimates of nearly $50 billion for the Army's expected supplemental request for fiscal year 2005.

"The resultant shortfall could have a serious impact again on Army transformation funding in the future,'' Lieberman said. "And potentially force the Army to delay, or at worst, terminate the future combat systems in order to meet current force requirements."

Bolton said the Army is responding quickly to meet current needs, namely making sure Soldiers have the best protection, equipment and technology available to fight the enemy. As an example, Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq now have special inserts called SAPI plates that go into their flak vests for added protection. Just over a year ago, the Army was getting about 8,700 sets a month. By April 2003, monthly production more than doubled to 19,000. Current production is at 25,000 sets per month, with a total of more than 163,000 in theater. The goal is 840,000 sets, Bolton said.

Along with that, production of new up-armored Humvees stood at 20 to 30 vehicles a year ago. That number currently stands at 185 per month, with production expected to rise to 220 by May. Officials expect to have 4,149 of the vehicles, with the intention of continuing production to reach 5,000 in theater, Bolton said.

The rapid fielding initiative equipped 27,000 Soldiers last year with arm and kneepads, and different sights for night vision and weapons. This year, 120,000 Soldiers will get them, Bolton said.

Resource shortfalls are not putting the Army behind in moving forward with future force plans, Bolton stressed, describing the Future Combat System as the most complex undertaking the Defense Department has ever done. In breadth of scope, he compared it to the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and the space program of the 1960s.

The Future Combat System will include unmanned vehicles on the ground and in the air; mobile robots with arms that can fire mortars; a non-line-of-sight cannon; lighter vehicles that can fit into a C-130 cargo plane; and blue force tracking, the ability to network sensors from all of those items to give Soldiers the ability to know where the enemy is and what it's doing.

Some of that is already being used to some degree, the leaders said. The Stryker infantry carriers, on the ground now in Iraq, can be transported in the C-130. One of the first things done in Afghanistan to reduce risk to Soldiers, Bolton said, was to put robots in caves with Web cams to show whether there were weapons inside. Another advancement was finding a way to open locks without breaking them while searching Afghan homes for weapons, reducing burdens on citizens who could not afford to replace locks in the event no weapons were found.

The subcommittee, to include Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), also heard from Maj. Gen. John Curran. He directs the Futures Center, the lead agent on developing the Army's future force. Work there enables Soldiers to fight better by identifying gaps in capabilities and when possible, infusing - or 'spiraling' future abilities into the current force.

While much of the scope of the center's work involves re-organization, equipment, weapon systems, technology and a joint mindset, Curran stressed that the Soldier is at the forefront of planning and research.

"The human dimension is and will remain the most critical dimension of war," Curran said. "The Soldier is indispensable to the joint team. When we enhance the Soldier's lethality, protection and situational awareness, we enable individual initiative and competence to win battles, wars and peace."

In the interest of beefing up protection for Soldiers, Bolton said the Army has engaged industry and academic types to develop a body suit made of material stronger than Kevlar and about as thick as a shirt. Researchers recently tested one of the prototypes - with the thickness of about two shirts - by stabbing it as hard as possible with an ice pick. With normal Kevlar, the ice pick goes through it, Bolton said - but it did not penetrate the tested material.

"It won't give 100 percent against all threats, but I think it will greatly reduce some of the problems and injuries we've had,'' Bolton said.

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