WASHINGTON -- Readiness has always been Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley's No. 1 priority. Now he's got the Secretary of Defense underwriting that opinion.
"Secretary Mattis, just yesterday, very clearly tasked the U.S. Army to be ready; his words were carefully chosen," Milley said. "So our No. 1 task, bar none, remains readiness. Readiness for what? Readiness for war. Readiness for the intense combat of ground operations of any type, anywhere in the world. That is our task. And I can tell you that it has never been more important than it is today."
Milley spoke Oct. 10 during the Eisenhower Luncheon, part of the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. The general pointed out several hotspots around the globe where he said the Army must be ready to engage in ground conflict.
He was also very clear that readiness to fight doesn't just increase the odds that the U.S. Army could win in a conflict. Readiness can also prevent conflict from happening in the first place. Readiness is a deterrence, he said.
"Un-readiness results in paying the butcher's bill in the blood of American Soldiers," Milley said. "But being combat-ready, on the other hand, deters enemies, it keeps the peace. And in the event of conflict, combat readiness provides the capability to end the war quickly, on our terms, in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of friendly casualties.
"As Soldiers, as America's sentinels of freedom, we will pray for peace every day," Milley said. "But at the same time, we will prepare for war."
Milley said over the past few years, the Army has sent fewer Soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan. And in that time, the Army has taken advantage of the operations tempo decrease, he said, and "arrested the readiness decline we were experiencing."
He attributed that success to work by U.S. Army Forces Command, Army Materiel Command, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, component commands overseas, and also Congress.
Included among the efforts that have helped stabilize readiness in the Army, Milley said, is a shift to sustainable readiness and away from the Army Force Generation model "in order to get our Army ready for high-intensity conflict." It also includes the elimination of unnecessary training "to give time back to commanders to focus on the preparation for combat;" and an increase in combat training center rotations.
Also, the Army has grown by 28,000 Soldiers in the last year "to strengthen our formations," he said. The appearance of those new Soldiers in formations will likely mean that other, more-experienced Soldiers will be available to participate in any of the five Security Force Assistance Brigades the Army is building in the active force. An additional SFAB, or a sixth, is also being built in the National Guard.
Those SFABs will specialize in performing advise and assist missions with partner nations, freeing up regular infantry brigades to focus on their own preparation and training for war.
Those are just some of the examples Milley offered for how the Army is improving readiness across the force. He said the Army isn't where he wants it to be yet, in terms of total readiness. "We must continue to lean into the readiness with a laser-focused sense of urgency that we've never had before."
While Milley made clear the Army will continue from a top-level to make decisions and changes that will enhance total readiness for whatever warfight comes next, he laid the ultimate responsibility for that readiness at the feet of commanders.
"Do not wait on orders and printed new regulations and new manuals, do not wait on force structure changes,"' he said. "You and you alone are responsible for the readiness of your unit. You know what to do. Your mission is to focus solely on what is essential to increase the lethality of your unit for the unforgiving crucible of ground combat. Put simply, I want you to get ready for what might come. And do not do any tasks that do not directly contribute to increasing the combat readiness of your unit."
Milley delved into what the Army is doing in the way of modernizing the force. He laid out six priority areas for modernization that include long-range precision fires; a next-generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift platforms; a mobile and expeditionary Army network; air and missile defense capabilities; and Soldier lethality.
All of those, he said, will be focus areas for a new Army modernization command, the creation of which was announced Monday at the AUSA exposition.
That sixth priority, he said, "Soldier lethality," will produce new weapons systems for Soldiers, such as a next-generation individual and squad combat weapon that he said will be a "10x improvement over any existing current system in the world."
That Soldier lethality priority will also bring improved body armor, sensors for Soldiers, small-unit radios, and other things to improve Soldier endurance.
But new equipment, he said, is only part of what the focus on Soldier lethality will be. Also a focus, he said, is training for Soldiers.
It will be training, Milley said, that really gets at Soldier readiness. Advancements such as synthetic training will allow commanders to make their units more lethal by honing the skills of individual Soldiers and Soldier teams through inexpensive repetitions.
"Training is the key," Milley said. "Hard, rigorous, realistic, repetitive training. That is the ultimate form of taking care of an American Soldier. And the only way to do that is through repetition in combat-like conditions. Repetitive practice in the right conditions builds skills and intuition that each of our leaders will need to make thousands of decisions in actual combat."
The Army's modernization focus on Soldier lethality will provide commanders with the tools to get those repetitions for their Soldiers, Milley said.
"We want our leaders at all levels, at all echelons to make thousands of simulated combat tactical decisions against a thinking and adaptive enemy, in order to gain confidence and skill, and to learn from their mistakes," he said.
Live-fire exercises, as well as combat training center exercises that use an opposing force, are always best, Milley said. But that kind of training is expensive, he said, and doesn't provide the number of repetitions needed to get Soldiers trained the way they need to be trained.
To get that repetition, he said, the Army's modernization will focus on "radically improving our synthetic training environment."
Air Force, Navy, and even Army helicopter pilots and tank crews get ample simulator training before going into actual combat vehicles, he said.
"Tens of millions of dollars are spent and invested in teaming and simulation for an F-35 pilot before they are ever allowed to come near a fifth-generation fighter," Milley said. "Well, we have fifth-generation fighters in our squads and platoons and they are actually fighting every day. So we must do the same thing for them.
"Any Soldier that engages in close-quarters combat deserves the same investment [as] anyone who is flying at 30,000 feet. There is no reason we do not do that."
Milley said the technology already exists to provide that type of training for squads of Soldiers all over the Army, to allow commanders to get their Soldiers ready for any kind of combat.
"Every line company in the Army can have multiple simulators to train under varied combat conditions, so that units and Soldiers [can] practice warfighting skills literally every day," Milley said. "The technology exists now in order to conduct realistic training in any terrain in all of the urban areas of the world, with any scenario, with any enemy. Anything the commander deems necessary, that is possible today."
Making that happen for commanders, he said, is now an Amy priority.
"We just need, at our level, to focus our resources to provide them the opportunity," he said.