FORT SILL, Okla. (April 4, 2019) -- "I've had a wonderful visit here the past couple of days," Secretary of the Army Mark Esper told reporters March 29, following a town hall with Fort Sill's military families in Cache Creek Chapel.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Esper on his way down, and they were able to see troops training here Thursday.

"It was just a great opportunity for me to spend that time with him," Esper said. "He's been a big supporter of the military and particularly of the United States Army, so we had a great time visiting with our Soldiers going through basic training.

"And then (Friday) we started off early doing physical training with our newest lieutenants in the artillery, and I was able to see training for both our (advanced individual training) artillery students and I was able to meet with our Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) for both artillery and air defense artillery.

"I had lunch with a number of Soldiers. I had breakfast with brigade commanders. And then finally my wife and I were able to visit a couple of homes and meet with Soldiers to talk about the housing situation here on Fort Sill. And we topped it off here at the town hall.

"My bottom line message was, the Army is in the midst of a renaissance right now. It involves everything we do, from how we man, train, and equip the force to how we lead and organize it. And we're shifting a lot of dollars to make sure that we are consistent with the National Defense Strategy, and if called upon, could fight and win against near-peer competitors such as Russia and China.

"So that's my mission. On top of that, we must always take care of our Soldiers and the families. And so my ability to come out here and meet with Soldiers and the families, talk to commanders and really visit the post and find out what's going on, is always very helpful to me. I always take a lot of lessons back home to D.C. and a lot of actions back to D.C. for my staff, and this time will be no different."

Esper has espoused a future for the Army that is more technology-driven.

"I think it's going to look very different in a number of ways," he said. "We're also overhauling how we train Soldiers. So at Fort Benning, (Ga.,) we extended our basic OSUT (One Station Unit Training combining basic and advanced individual training into one) by two months. And we added a lot of training that will be required for future warfare. Urban training, for example. More combat medic training, and all that. So we're looking at doing the same for Fort Sill, for our artillery Soldiers. That's on the training side."

Esper touched on the new Army Combat Fitness Test that's expected to replace the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) this fall. He observed that the APFT has been around since 1980, just before he joined the Army.

"That's going to be another revolution with regard to the fitness of our Soldiers and their ability to deploy. And we see our non-deployable rates going down now.

"The big one, of course, is technology. We are shifting $30 billion out of what we call the legacy systems of today into the future systems that we will need in 2028. Again, the fight and win. And the impact of that will be very clear with regard to Fort Sill, because we have six broad modernization priorities. No. 1 is long-range precision fires. It continues with next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift. No. 5 is air and missile defense. And No. 6, the one closest to my heart, is Soldier lethality.

"We are building very capable systems that will ensure that we have overmatch against Russia and China if it comes down to that. We need on the artillery side the ability to out-range and outgun them, and on the air defense side, through the use of missiles and guns and lasers -- directed energy -- the ability to shoot down aircraft and drones and cruise missiles.

"So it's a very exciting time in the Army, and it should be a very exciting time for the artillery and the air defense artillery."

Esper met Friday morning with directors of the two Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) stationed at Fort Sill, Long-Range Precision Fires and Integrated Air and Missile Defense.

"They are staffing up now, a combination of military and civilian. They're integral to the success of the Army's acquisition," he said.

The Army has established eight CFTs to address the six priorities identified by Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, and has assigned them 31 missions. What missions do the two CFTs at Fort Sill have, and how does that fit in with their higher headquarters, the Army's new Futures Command headquartered in Austin, Texas?

Esper said the two CFTs here do have several programs underneath the 31-program list.

"The three that come to mind immediately are this: The Extended-Range Cannon Artillery, a new type of self-propelled howitzer that could shoot a new 155-mm round over 70 kilometers, and I was able to see it at our Yuma (Proving Grounds, Ariz.,) testing site a few months ago. That is a system that will give us greater range than what the Russians currently possess.

"Another one is a Strategic Long-Range Cannon, which will allow us to shoot hypersonic rounds a thousand miles, and we're also building what's called the Precision Strike Missile, which is a replacement for ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System), and that will give us the ability to shoot 499 kilometers or greater "On the air defense artillery side, the Integrated Battle Command System, which will at last integrate all of our sensors, all of our radars, to detect enemy aircraft with all of our shooters, and will give us great capability. Another one is Mobile Short-Range Air Defense, a capability we're putting back into the Army formations. Initially we would use guns and missiles, but eventually directed energy. Laser systems on the vehicle that can move with our maneuver forces in order to protect them in high-intensity conflicts."

National Defense Magazine has reported that 30 self-driving convoy vehicles will be coming to Fort Sill within the next year, and the Secretary of the Army said that goes along with the Army Vision Statement Milley and he issued in June 2018, which calls for all new platforms to be capable of being either semi-autonomous or fully autonomous.

"What that does is it gives the commanders more options on the battlefield. What it gives the Army is a better way to manage resources.

"I'll give you a good example. We suffered many, many casualties during the war in Iraq, by simply running logistics from Kuwait City to Baghdad. Many Soldiers killed by IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Let's say a convoy of 12 vehicles might hold 24 Soldiers. Think about what we could have done if that was a fully autonomous convoy. Think of all the lives we would have saved. So that's just one example of how it allows me to make our Soldiers less vulnerable on the battlefield, if I can employ vehicles in a fully autonomous mode.

"And even semi-autonomous, where maybe only one of those vehicles is manned, saves a lot of lives, allows me to free up resources for other missions, and it's just a capability we need to build into the future force."