WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army is the greatest fighting forces the world has ever known, but to maintain that excellence and overmatch will "require hard work and a disciplined focus on our priorities," said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper.

"It will require a renewal, a renaissance in how we envision, plan and prepare for future conflict," he continued.

Esper delivered the keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct. 8. He then touched on various ways the Army is seizing the initiative to improve readiness and modernization.


To improve readiness, the Army is in the process of expanding Basic Combat Training so Soldiers are battle-ready when they reach their first unit, Esper said.

Already, initial Infantry training has been extended for two months in One Station Unit Training. In the near future, armor and engineers will likewise be extended, he said, with others likely to follow.

The Army Combat Fitness Test will provide leaders with a tough, realistic assessment of Soldiers' physical, individual readiness, and will help better prepare Soldiers to deploy, fight, and win on any future battlefield, he said.

To place more emphasis on combat training, the Army is also giving time back to junior leaders, he said.

"Over the years, the cumulative weight of mandatory training tasks has hindered our ability to build ready, lethal units, let alone build trust and confidence in subordinate leaders," he said. "As part of an ongoing process, we are continuing to eliminate and reduce mandatory requirements across the Army."


Within Army Futures Command's initial operating capability, its eight cross-functional teams are working to bring the Army's six modernization priorities to realization by 2028, if not sooner, said Esper.

For instance, "we expect to have prototypes for a next generation combat vehicle, squad automatic weapon, mobile short-range air defense system and a strategic long-range cannon in the next few years," he said.

Around $25 billion has been freed up for the six modernization priorities, he said, which are long-range precision fires, next generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, the network, air and missile defense and Soldier lethality.

Programs were painstakingly examined by senior Army leaders and trade-offs were made, he said. Some had funding reduced, some were consolidated and others cancelled. Not that these programs didn't have value, he said, but hard choices had to be made.

The process for prioritizing programs will be expanded to training and the entire process will be institutionalized, Esper said, adding that every taxpayer dollar will be used for programs that increase readiness and lethality.


There are constraints inherent in the Army's current career path models, Esper said, noting that he heard frustrations about it during travels speaking with Soldiers.

Esper shared some anecdotes, such as a sergeant who wasn't able to stay in a recruiting job because her time was up; a captain who was steered away from graduate school because it would have jeopardized his career path timeline; and a colonel who retired because he was forced to change duty stations for a third consecutive year.

"We need to fix this with a system that offers multiple paths to success and optimizes individual's qualifications and preferences to meet the Army's requirements, is more attuned to desires of families and the operations tempos of today's Army and one that relies far less on the adherence of set timelines, centralized management and cookie-cutter career paths," he said.

The Army's Talent Management Task Force "is developing a strategy consistent with the new authorities contained in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to better enable us to attract, develop and retain the best officers, NCOs and Soldiers available," he said. "This is the talent management-based personnel system that we intend to construct next year."

That system is referred to as the Integrated Personnel and Pay System.

Esper concluded that in 10 short years, by 2028, "we will look back on this time as a pivotal moment for our Army. We will remember it when the Army united behind a common set of goals, with a shared purpose and a clear path. We will reflect on it as a moment (when) an opportunity was seized, when the hard decisions were made, and when the Army shaped the future rather than clinging to the past. I'm asking all of you to seize this opportunity with us, to embrace reform, to take the initiative and commit to the renaissance that will achieve our vision."