WASHINGTON -- From what began as a dozen people whom Army leaders said formed a "beachhead" in downtown Austin, Texas, the Army Futures Command has considerably grown in the past year to over 24,000 around the world.The command, which was created to oversee the Army's modernization efforts, now has Soldiers and civilians located in 25 states and 15 countries.It is set to achieve full-operational capability on July 31, capping off the Army's largest reorganization effort in more than 40 years.
"Growing from that original 12, I like to describe it as a startup trying to manage a merger as we assume command of subordinate organizations," said Gen. John Murray, the AFC commander.In a media briefing at the Pentagon Thursday along with Bruce Jette, the Army's acquisition chief, Murray credited the "incredible feat" to the hard work of his staff, Army leaders including Jette, as well as lawmakers."This work would not have been possible without the support of Congress," he said. "Consistent, on-time funding will be critical to our efforts going forward."Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, highlighted the command's eight cross-functional teams that have allowed Soldiers to team with acquisition and science and technology experts at the start of projects.The teams tackle six modernization priorities: long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality -- all of which have been allocated $30 billion over the next five years."We are focused on continuously modernizing the Army through the development and timely delivery of overmatch capability to the Soldier," Jette said.Without proper funding due to a possible continuing resolution, Murray said at least six procurement programs could face delays, including robotic combat vehicles and new navigation equipment."A CR would absolutely degrade our competitive advantage," he said.BLANK CANVASSWith no previous history or operating procedures to start with, Murray said the Army's newest major command had to be built using a blank canvass.Early on, the command created the CFTs to handle the most essential modernization needs.The Army Capabilities Integration Center then transitioned over to be the command's Futures and Concepts Center, which is developing the multi-domain operations concept."That continues to mature and we will turn that into doctrine at some point in the future," Murray said.The Research, Development and Engineering Command then realigned to become its Combat Capabilities Development Command."They are tasked with not only finding, but building the technologies to ensure future victories," he said.Research elements at the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command have realigned, too.FINDING INNOVATIONAFC has also forged closer bonds with industry and academia.Near its headquarters, the University of Texas, for instance, is creating a robotics institute to help the command develop technology for autonomous breaching missions as well as improving battery and energy storage.In May, the general observed an early demonstration of robotic combat vehicles breaching through obstacles at Yakima Training Area in Washington."It was done poorly," he said. "But the fact that there was not a single Soldier in any of the vehicles was pretty key."He was also amazed of how quickly Soldiers figured out how to operate the vehicles, which were driven using video game controllers.In the coming years, he said he expects the Texas A&M University to also complete a Soldier development center that will pair Soldiers with engineering students and faculty to solve problems on the battlefield.A few blocks from the command's headquarters, the Army Applications Laboratory has set up shop inside Capital Factory, a hub for startups, to help innovators navigate the Army's acquisition process.The command is also forming another team inside its headquarters to better engage with small businesses."We're focused on making sure that we take advantage of the opportunities that small businesses offer," he said.In the near future, the general hopes to host a networking event that brings small businesses and the larger defense companies together to ensure their ideas come to fruition."The one thing I do worry about with small businesses is their ability to scale," he said. "There are lots of ways they can scale; one of the ways is working with a defense prime."The Army Office of Small Business Programs at the Pentagon, Jette noted, will also continue to complement what the AFC headquarters is doing from Texas."It's critically important," he said. "A lot of innovation comes from small business."