WASHINGTON -- "There's been quite a bit of interest" in the location for the new Army Futures Command, said Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper, adding that the location announcement would be made in the coming months.

Esper spoke yesterday at a Heritage Foundation event moderated by Thomas Spoehr, the director of the Foundation's Center for National Defense.

Spoehr mentioned the national buzz over the possible location of Amazon's second headquarters, and wondered if the Army was generating similar interest over the unannounced Futures Command location.

The list of potential locations is being narrowed down, the secretary said. The main criteria is to find an unbeatable center of innovation, where the Army can gather top talent from academia and industry.

The Army will need these innovators to support the Army's six modernization priorities, Esper said. They will need to visualize what the Army will look like 30 years from now, the threat and strategic environment of the future, and the range of innovative technical and material solutions that will be available to provide overmatch for the Army.

The Army's six modernization priorities are the development of improved 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. Eight cross-functional teams, or CFTs, are leading that effort and will become part of Futures Command.

The Army will need talented engineers to work on lasers, directed energy and hypersonics, Esper said, in addition to cyber experts to secure the Army's networks and make them more mobile and resilient.

The Future Vertical Lift priority will also require the best experts in the field, especially since interest in the industry is so high. The secretary noted that for every dollar the Army spends on FVL, he said industry spends $3.

The idea, he continued, is to bring smart people into the discussions early on to discuss the requirements, allow for reasonable tradeoffs in those requirements, build prototypes, experiment, take prudent risks and get those solutions to Soldiers in the field in as timely a manner as possible.

Besides bringing talented people to Futures Command, Esper noted that another important aspect of the new effort is acquisition reform. Projects need to move more efficiently through the requirements and acquisition process, he said. Sustainment and interoperability should be considered with the joint force and partners. That will all occur up front with everyone participating in the CFTs, he said.

Congress, he added, has been supportive of these efforts and has offered some flexibility in spending, such as with Other Transactional Authority. OTA is a term referring to the Title 10 authority to enter into transactions other than contracts, typically for prototype projects.

Currently, the Army has some 800 weapons and equipment programs, he said. Top leadership is looking at each of these programs, with an eye to ending some and putting others on hold, based on a modernization priority list. "The days of spreading peanut butter around are over," he said.

RECRUITING AND RETENTION

The Army is on track to meet its recruiting mission this year, Esper said. Also, retention rates are higher than ever, taking some pressure off the recruiting mission.

But the Army can't rest on its laurels, he added. The Army is actively improving its talent management system in order to better attract and retain the best.

For instance, the Army is looking to make it easier to move between the active and reserve components and is examining the possibility of allowing Soldiers to take a break or sabbatical from service to do such things as raising a family or going to school, and then being allowed to return to the Army without penalty.

Ideally, the Army would like to grow the active component to 500,000 with appropriate growth in the reserve components, he said. However, to get to that number would take time because Soldiers would need to be adequately trained and equipped.

The Army will not lower standards to achieve that number, he added, noting that all senior Army leaders are in unanimous agreement about keeping standards high.