WASHINGTON -- Coming off many years of hard conflict, today's Army is at a "strategic inflection point," said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.

Despite drastically reduced operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army can't afford to forget the lessons in low-intensity conflict and irregular warfare that it learned there, said Esper, during a Tuesday morning discussion at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. At the same time, the Army must prepare for new kinds of conflict.

"The National Defense Strategy tells us that threats are evolving, the future is uncertain," Esper said. "We are in an era of great power competition. Our strategic competitors are China and Russia and that we must be prepared for a high-end fight with them in the future."

As the character of war continues to evolve, future Army forces must be ready to fight in a highly contested, multi-domain environment, Esper added.

The total force must be ready, mobile, and able to deploy at a moment's notice, Esper added. Similarly, the Army must be able to deliver "quick and precise lethal and overwhelming effects in, through and across every domain." And the Army must deliver those effects faster than the enemy.

"The Army of 2028 will be ready to deploy, fight and win decisively against any adversary, anytime and anywhere, in a joint, multi-domain high-intensity conflict while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining its ability to conduct regular warfare," the secretary emphasized.

GROWTH, MODERNIZATION AND TRAINING

Moving forward, the regular Army must grow to more than 500,000 Soldiers, with related growth in the National Guard and Reserve, Esper said.

However, recruiting continues to be a challenge for all services, as 71 percent of Americans aged 17 to 24 are considered unqualified for the military service. Out of the remaining 29 percent of eligible candidates, only four percent or less would consider a career in the armed forces.

"I am concerned that we are becoming increasingly isolated from the larger public because [the Army] is becoming a 'family business' in many ways," Esper said. "If you talk to any senior Army leaders, you'll find one, if not all their children are in the Army. And so, the family business has taken over."

One way to remedy that, Esper said, is to increase familiarity with the Army. He said Soldiers not directly involved in recruiting efforts could be more engaged with the American population as part of an effort to generate more interest and familiarity with the service.

Overall, the Army remains committed to providing solid professional opportunities to those who choose to serve, Esper said. Army opportunities incorporate a good quality of life, sufficient pay, and incentives for critically manned or highly-skilled career fields.

Likewise, the Army is also working to optimize the force to better conduct and sustain ground and air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and cyber operations.

"One area where we see a lot of potential for the Guard and Reserve is in cyber," Esper said. "If you can find a person who works cyber issues during his or her day job ... [and the Army is] able to leverage them on the weekend or during a real-world deployment ... it gives [the Army] a lot of capability."

In regards to training, the Army strives to create and maintain a tough, realistic, and dynamic training environment, Esper said. The Army must continue to focus on high-intensity conflict in urban terrain, while under constant surveillance and operating within electronically degraded environments.

"Our training must involve continuous movement, battlefield innovation, and combined arms maneuver with the joint force and our allies and partners," Esper said. "And we are pushing hard to ... do company level synthetic training and simulations across the force."

Furthermore, the Army will continue to emphasize technology through the growth of manned and unmanned ground combat vehicles, aircraft sustainment systems, hypersonic systems, artificial intelligence, robotics, directed energy, and tactics with exceptional leadership and based on a modern warfighting doctrine, Esper added.

Recently, the secretary visited the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, Michigan. During his visit, Esper received updates and had a chance to ride in a minimally-manned autonomous vehicle system that is currently under development.

"If you look back at the Iraq war, one of the most dangerous duties was driving or riding in a convoy. We lost ... too many soldiers to IED attacks," Esper said. "I could have reduced that vulnerability -- that sacrifice if you will -- if I had greater use of unmanned convoys or convoys that were manned by only a couple of Soldiers."