Army logisticians, industry navigate budgetary minefield to modernize equipment
October 28, 2013
By David Vergun
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 28, 2013) -- Continuing resolutions, sequestration and furloughs are putting equipment modernization, readiness and force structure at risk, said a top leader responsible for equipping Soldiers.
"It's pretty clear to me there's no end in sight to sequestration and we'll be living with it for years ahead," said Lt. Gen. James O. Barclay III, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8. "Tough times are ahead, especially in the (fiscal year) 2015 through 2019 window."
Barclay and six other panel members composed of leaders from Army logistics and representatives from Congress and the private sector spoke Oct. 22, at an equipment modernization forum at 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, in Washington, D.C.
Panel member Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, deputy commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command, ticked off a list of the impacts to the organic industrial base in terms of work slowdowns or stoppages, the loss of dollars from delaying programs and the psychological toll furloughs and shutdown are taking on workers.
She said delays in manufacturing resulted in workers on the M1 tank being told to do other things related to their skill sets.
Revitilization of the depots and arsenals is in jeopardy as well, with aging infrastructure often dating to World War II and earlier badly needing repairs and rehab, she said.
On the warfighter side, she said the overseas contingency operations budget is still inadequate to pay for the reset of equipment coming out of Afghanistan, particularly aircraft.
And the Budget Control Act of 2011 has slowed spending so much that parts for equipment repair sometimes cannot be ordered, and deferred maintenance is becoming common.
The Army is prioritizing the best it can to provide deploying units with the training and equipment it needs and everything else is being scrutinized on a case-by-case basis, she said.
"On the bright side," she said, trying to balance the gloom in the room, "we're talking more to our industry and defense partners."
Panel member Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, said "the budget morass" is causing unpredictability in planning equipment purchases now and in the years ahead and is playing havoc with "our principles of Better Buying Power 2.0."
The BBP2.0 concept is the implementation of industry best practices to achieve greater efficiencies in acquisition through affordability, cost control, the elimination of unproductive processes and bureaucracy, innovation, incentives and competition.
Industry reps shared their cost-savings ideas and other tips to help mitigate budgetary travails.
User feedback is one of the most important principles in the research, design and testing processes, said Angela Messer, executive vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton.
She applauded the Army for its user-testing program in Network Integration Evaluation exercises, known as NIEs, where Soldiers put equipment through rigorous use. The NIE provides valuable feedback in the process. User feedback, she said, is important not just for network components but also for big-ticket items like vehicles and aircraft.
Messer followed up on one of Barclay's earlier statements that the Army would continue to invest in science and technology that the private sector is not doing due to lack of incentives.
While cloud computing, social networks, smartphone technology and related technologies are considered cutting edge, Messer said the Army should look even beyond that to what she terms "disruptive and maverick technologies."
She said it means creating something totally new like physical and cognitive performance enhancers using biometrics and nanotechnologies. An example would be inexpensive sensors that monitor health when they are attached to the body or even ingested.
"3-D printing on steroids" would be another technology, she said, envisioning Soldiers in the field being able to print out weapons and gear on the fly.
Driverless car technology could apply to tactical vehicles, she said, but have them networked so that if a vehicle should, say, hit an improvised explosive device, the vehicles behind it would automatically veer, take evasive action or engage based on an algorithm.
Quantum computing, parallel processing and programing is another breakthrough that could be a security game changer, she said, adding that probabilistic programming could be used by Army logisticians to predict and respond to events and anticipated events.
A number of years ago, "Booz Allen took a strategic pause to re-evaluate its innovation efforts," she said. The Army is now at that crossroad. "Our people and I believe Soldiers and their civilian co-workers also want to work on products that are innovative and that they know will make a real difference."
Army members of the panel agreed with Messer and said the Army is involved in some of the very programs she cited and will continue to protect investments in that area.
Johnny Barnes, a vice president with IBM, said investing in research is smart, but when dollars are scarce -- a spot IBM found itself in during the 1990s -- then R&D dollars are often the first to take a hit, especially those dollars targeting pure research, where the spinoffs from that may not be apparent for years, if ever.
Fortunately, he said, IBM continued with pure research, albeit with some cutbacks to that, but augmented with research dollars targeted to specific products and capability.
Researchers and even developers at IBM are encouraged through awards and monetary incentives to "think outside the box" when it comes to innovation -- even if it is not in their particular domain.
Barnes said such creative thinking would benefit the Army if Soldiers and their civilian co-workers were given leeway to sometimes wander outside their lanes.
Lastly, he said that when making acquisition decisions, it is important to not only consider the cost of the system and its efficacy, but also to look at its lifecycle costs, which may not be as apparent.
Other topics discussed by the panel included the length of time, mountains of paperwork and regulatory procedures needed to get programs started and kept on track. Shyu said much of it is legislatively mandated and the burden of moving programs forward through the tangle falls on the "poor program manager."
She compared the program manager to a "flea on the tail of this dog" to illustrate "how little control he has over his own program."
McQuistion noted that the Army's Rapid Equipping Force has had success at a small scale in greasing the skids, but that even more needs to be done.
Panel member Dr. Robie Samanta Roy, professional staff member, Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged Congress' role in the federal acquisition process.
"Congress is a reactive body, not a proactive body," he said. "These [regulations] were built over a geological period of time."
Roy said he didn't have any magic solutions to the problem, but there needed to be serious discussions between government, industry and the military.
PEOPLE MOST IMPORTANT
Barclay said that while equipment modernization is a critical part of the Army's readiness and manpower triad, it is people who are the most important.
The past year or so has been especially hard on Soldiers and Army civilians, he said, referring not just to the fiscal crisis but also to the drawdown.
"It's hard looking at the faces of Soldiers and family members who've endured 12 years of wartime service and telling them it's time to go home," Barclay said.
Shyu agreed. With 33 years in private industry and the last three in the Army, she said what impressed her most in her current role is the unbelievable dedication, loyalty and integrity of the warfighters and civilians who support them.
"No matter what is thrown at them, they get it done. It's been a real eye-opener for me," she said. "It frustrates me to no end to see Army civilians get slammed."
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