By Devon L. Suits, Army News ServiceFebruary 10, 2020
WASHINGTON -- The Army's strength lies in its capacity to project power, said Army Materiel Command's top officer, who will be evaluating AMC's ability to move and sustain more than 20,000 service members and close to 23,000 pieces of equipment during exercise Defender-Europe 20.
"The training event over in Europe, and later in the Pacific, will allow us to see ourselves at all three levels: tactical, operational and strategic," said AMC Commander Gen. Gus Perna during a Defense Writers Group event Tuesday. "It will reinforce where we think we are in terms of materiel readiness."
Defender-Europe includes the deployment of a division-sized force from the U.S. to locations across the continent. Arriving forces will leverage Army prepositioned stocks, or APS, for their equipment, and travel to multiple training areas.
The Army has seven APS regions, each designed to improve deterrence and reduce deployment timelines, officials said. AMC maintains oversight for the program and manages the necessary storage and maintenance of each equipment set.
"Army prepositioned stocks … allows the president of the United States to make decisions, and allows [the Army] to execute rapidly," Perna said. "The equipment will be ready … and capable of going out and executing its mission. That is what Army Materiel Command has been driving [to achieve]."
Earlier this year, Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, received a short-notice deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Upon their arrival, Soldiers drew APS equipment stored in the region, highlighting the capability, Perna said.
During the upcoming Defender series of exercises, AMC will evaluate the current equipment at each APS location and make any necessary adjustments, Perna said.
Moreover, leaders at all levels will have the opportunity to "see themselves" and their capabilities, and execute changes to further the needs of the force, he added.
"I see Defender-Europe helping us illuminate and magnify the potential of APS," Perna said. "We have gone to great lengths to ensure that a unit can get on a plane, fly over, and then draw that equipment rapidly. And that equipment is going to have all of the [necessary] capabilities so [Soldiers] can get to where they need to be."
In addition to Defender-Europe, AMC leaders have already started to prepare for Defender-Pacific in 2021. During this exercise, the force will have to deal with the "tyranny of distance," an added challenge that influences movement within the region, he said.
The Army is also progressing its additive manufacturing capabilities, the general said, with the recent designation of the Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center in Illinois as a Center of Excellence for Advanced and Additive Manufacturing.
Commonly known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing fabricates parts from plastic and other materials -- layer by layer. In the future, Soldiers will be able to "print" the necessary parts or equipment to maintain their mission, Perna said.
"Three years ago, when I started on this, I would tell you the industry was way ahead of us," he said. "In my personal opinion, the United States Army … has caught up.
"We are already improving readiness because of this capability."
The Rock Island facility will serve as the central hub and provide a bulk of the Army's 3D printing capabilities, he said. Beyond the center, the Army will leverage "25 depots, arsenals, and plants" and division-based 3D print capabilities to provide support.
"We have already purchased the equipment that we're putting into Rock Island Arsenal. I renovated a whole warehouse with the vision that someday … the whole thing will be filled [with equipment]," he said. "We have already purchased equipment for the depots, arsenals and plants selectively, and we are doing limited testing at the division level right now."
Finding a way to tie all the facilities together digitally is one of the core challenges Perna is currently facing, he said.
At the moment, personnel use shared spreadsheets and databases to handle the Army's 3D printing process. The goal is to have a central database, of sorts, that Soldiers can access and request specific parts for print, he said, adding AMC is currently working through academic institutions to find a solution.
Another hurdle with the additive manufacturing process stems from inadequate "government-purpose rights" to print particular parts, he said. The Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology community is working to obtain those rights.
"Industry needs to know that I am not trying to take over their supply chain," he said. "I want to be able to … react to readiness drivers on the battlefield in a timely manner.
"I just need the government-purpose rights to produce a capability for equipment that we bought," he emphasized.