WASHINGTON --- To get the latest equipment into the hands of Soldiers, the Army must accept that it can't have perfection right up front. It may instead need to accept less than perfect to get Soldiers what they need now, say Army acquisition professionals.
Maj. Gen. David G. Bassett, the Army's program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems, said Monday during a public forum on Capitol Hill, hosted by the Lexington Institute, that the Army must be willing to accept less than fully complete, perfect solutions, if it's going to meet the chief of staff's demands to get needed capability out to the force quicker.
One example where this was successful was with the Stryker Double V Hull capability, which provides additional protection to Soldiers in the Stryker.
"The vendor and the Army had worked on designs for a vehicle with additional protection," Bassett said. "The traditional acquisition process would have held it out and not fielded it, because the automotive systems under Stryker, the engine, was not enough to meet all of its mobility objectives."
Still, the Stryker with the DVH went out to the force -- with less than the best mobility under the hood -- because without that extra protection, Bassett said, Soldiers were at risk.
"So, what changed in Stryker DVH? We had a willingness to accept the shortcoming in mobility until we could offer more protection to our Soldiers," he said. "People were getting shot at."
Stryker DVH is doing "very well," today, he said. And there's now an engineer change proposal to upgrade the Stryker with a bigger engine and transmission to give it improved mobility.
"Senior leaders were willing to accept that shortcoming for some period of time," he said of the Stryker DVH. As a result, an improved protection capability was able to be fielded.
Also, some of the Strykers now have improved lethality that comes with the addition of a 30mm cannon. Strykers equipped with the new cannon are referred to as "Dragoons."
"We delivered the first vehicle on Stryker lethality within 15 months of receipt of funds," Bassett said. "In the old way of doing business, we might have had some folks in the requirements community who would say 'don't field Stryker lethality, because it doesn't have an airburst munition ready.' There's no argument that an airburst for that weapon system is desirable and important. And in the past, we might have held that out of the field until we could line all those things up and show that the airburst was ready."
Nevertheless, the Army fielded the Stryker with the 30mm cannon in Europe, without having an airburst capability ready for it.
"We said field it without airburst, and as soon as that munition is affordable and capable, we'll make sure it's [good] to fire a round, but we're not going to hold it up for just airburst," he said.
"What changed was our willingness to accept some shortcomings and proceed in an incremental fashion," Bassett said. "And I think that again is a lesson that our leadership has begun to understand as necessary. It doesn't mean accept that forever, but it does mean accept it until you can fix it best."
Bassett also pointed out advancements with the M109 self-propelled howitzer. He said the M109 needed both a better cannon and better mobility.
"We know the Russians outrange us; we need to extend the range of our cannon," Bassett said. "But we also realize that until we got the automotive portions in place, getting at the cannon wasn't going to do us much good, so we broke it into two pieces."
The Army opted to upgrade the automotive capability of the M109 self-propelled howitzer before outfitting it with a new cannon.
"You may eventually see some test reports that will come out in certain communities, that will say the howitzer is not suitable because the cannon has not been upgraded," Bassett said. "We know. It's in the next increment. That culture of how we do incremental acquisition has to change, so that we are grading the increment under development and not trying to grade the entire capability."
Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt serves as director of operations for the Army Rapid Capabilities Office, which stood up about six months ago under then-Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning.
Piatt said the Rapid Capabilities Office was established because "we cannot keep pace with our adversaries ... while we are meeting current demand, our adversaries have been modernizing at an alarming rate."
Development through the traditional Army acquisition cycle typically takes longer than five years. On the short side of acquisition, there is the Rapid Equipping Force or REF, which allows Soldiers or units in immediate need to file an urgent operational needs statement; the REF will respond, typically in fewer than six months, with a materiel solution that in most cases is developed on-the-fly by the Army, sometimes even in theater.
Output from the Rapid Capabilities Office, however, is meant to hit a "sweet spot" in development timelines of between one and five years. It is meant neither for immediate solutions, nor long-term development of projects like aircraft or vehicles. Its purpose is to close the capability gaps with rapidly evolving technologies that require a dedicated fast-track to approval.
Right now, Piatt said, the Rapid Capabilities Office is focusing on electronic warfare capabilities as well as position, navigation, and timing.
"Our first approach was: we cannot wait for something to be developed in a perfect solution that would come to us in five or ten years," Piatt said. "What do we have in the inventory today that could be repurposed that would give us the ability to do electronic support and electronic attack [in addition to] electronic protection? So that's the first phase we're trying to lead off with.
“We're going to do rapid prototyping of these, or re-engineering, or a tweak to something that's existing, [and] issue it in a smaller formation in Eastern Europe ... assess it in the field, do an operational assessment, and learn earlier so that we can get to right faster. So if we waited and tried to build the perfect solution, and put it into a program, we would not meet the timeline given to us by the chief of staff of the Army."
The Rapid Capabilities Office answers to the secretary of the Army, chief of staff of the Army, and the Army's chief acquisition executive. Other involved stakeholders include the G-2, the intelligence community, Army Forces Command, Army Materiel Command, and Army Training and Doctrine Command.
"They inform how we are getting after this problem," Piatt said. "All agree we are focused on the right two (EW and PNT) to get out of the gate. We have to be able to solve ground maneuver in this contested and congested domain."