Carson discusses challenges to 'material, managerial, metaphysical' Army
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Carson discusses challenges to 'material, managerial, metaphysical' Army
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WASHINGTON (April 2, 2015) -- Undersecretary of the Army Brad R. Carson paid a visit to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he discussed a variety of subjects - innovation, Force 2025 and beyond, the Army Operating Concept and how to 'win in a complex world,' April 1.

Speaking and exchanging ideas with scholars, senior leaders and reporters, Carson spoke on how the country is confronting a new world, where Russia and Islamic radicals pose new threats; where non-state actors are expanding capabilities and access to technology that was once unthinkable.

"This is the world the Army finds itself in and tries to adapt itself to," he said. "So for me, I would say there are three challenges… one is material, the second is managerial, and the third, for lack of a better term, is metaphysical."

Addressing the material, Carson said that in its planning processes, the Army was taking about a $30 billion cut that will affect modernization and the research and development programs.

During the next five years, Carson said, the service will spend maybe $120 billion on modernization. The major drivers of which are aviation, the network, air and missile defense - all expensive programs that will have to be prioritized, he said.

The challenge, he said was how to move into new programs that would not threaten to consume the entire budget.

"If we want a future fighting vehicle for example, how do you reconcile the cost of that with other programs, with the Abrams and the Strykers, not to mention other parts of the acquisition portfolio," he said.

Switching to the managerial side, he said the challenge he, the secretary and the chief of staff have is how to create an institutional Army commensurate with the operational force.

"The operational force is great at planning… they move out and do things, the tactical acumen… the leadership of people in the field is incredible," he said. "The headquarters, by contrast, is not nearly as agile. It is not just arthritic, but so sclerotic at times, that blood is barely reaching the various appendages of the bureaucracy."

Under the orders of former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Army began reducing headquarters by more than 20 percent, which will be executed during the next four or five years, Carson said.

He said that by reducing personnel at the headquarters, or HQ, level was not about making arbitrary cuts; it was about reducing the number of echelons.

"At the HQ level, there were often nine echelons between the chief and the secretary and the lowest-level people, sometimes even SESs, our senior executives, people equivalent to general officers, the echelon six or seven, very far down in the organization, where you wouldn't think a leader of that stature would otherwise be," Carson said.

Tied to the echelon problem, the under secretary said there were also "spans of control," where people were managing one, two or three people when Army regulations call for managing 10-12 as a minimum and best practices in the corporate sector suggest six to eight people.

"We've changed that to where now everyone in the headquarters, with few exceptions, manages at least eight people," he said. "It is a belief of mine - and it comports with research from the business community - that every echelon a message is transmitted, you lose perhaps 10 percent or 15 percent of its fidelity… so could you imagine sending a message down to echelon nine and having it chopped all the way back up? The noise-to-signal gets way out of balance."

Carson said headquarters has instituted the Army Management Action Group, the Army's equivalent to the deputy defense secretary's management action group, which the Army vice chief might chair.

"Trying to make strategic planning as vigorous at the headquarters as it is in our subordinate commands out in the field - real strategic planning… a plan that deals with the real obstacles we face," he said, "these are the managerial challenges of how you put your imprint on the Army as a senior leader.

"And, as I said, metaphysical - by which I mean the Army is in one of its periodic identity crises," he said. "This happens after every major war, when people seem to turn away from the need for land power, where the consequences of these conflicts make people say, 'We'll never do this again,' whether it's after World War II or Korea or Vietnam, and now after Iraq, as well.

"The consequences are very real - we see that… the VA [Veterans Affairs]… the budget… has grown larger than the Army's… that's really a recent development over the last decade," Carson said. "You've seen the VA budget explode and we will be feeling these wars for not just years, but decades to come."

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