WASHINGTON -- After a year that saw the Army increasingly called to support the homefront and overcome numerous challenges, the service’s top civilian leader said modernization will continue to provide a way forward.
With the possibility of a tighter defense budget looming, acting Secretary of the Army John E. Whitley pledged his support toward the Army’s efforts to upgrade its equipment, weapons systems and processes.
“We remain committed to these modernization priorities,” Whitley said during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Next symposium Tuesday. “This will be a key period where we have to make tough choices and demonstrate our commitment to modernization or risk the entire program unwinding. And that is not going to happen.
“We are going to continue on the momentum of modernization no matter what,” he added.
The Army dealt with numerous challenges in 2020, including an adjustment in the way units communicated during stay-at-home orders, National Guard and Army Reserve units deploying to the COVID-19 frontlines and an independent investigation of reporting and accountability practices at Fort Hood, Texas.
Thousands of Guard troops deployed to Washington, D.C., to support security operations during the presidential inauguration in January and more than 5,000 remained stationed at the U.S. Capitol into March.
The Army even saw a change in its leadership, as its modernization initiative’s instrumental leader, former Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, transitioned from his post in January.
“This past year was an extremely challenging year for our nation and for our Army,” Whitley said. “The Army responded to each of the nation's calls and responded to vastly different missions. And our Soldiers responded masterfully … Despite the surge in support, your Army remains ready.”
Amid the challenges, the Army went forward with its ambitious efforts to overhaul the force, which is set to include fielding the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, and short-range air defense missiles later this year.
IVAS recently moved from its prototype phase to fielding and production, with testing scheduled for July. The Army plans to equip a unit with IVAS by the fourth quarter of this fiscal year.
IVAS, one of the Army’s more than 30 signature modernization systems, will enhance Soldier lethality by using augmented reality technology to maintain a competitive advantage in multi-domain operations by allowing Soldiers to train and share information on a single platform.
The Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense system, or IM-SHORAD, will expedite the setup process of the current Avenger short-range air defense system and provides stronger protection and survivability for Stryker vehicles. Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Ansbach, Germany, conducted testing of the system at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in November and will receive the system later this year.
“We have accelerated our modernization timeline by bringing the stakeholders under one roof through a Soldier-centered design model,” Whitley said. “And [Army Futures Command] is producing real results; allowing for the Army to test our equipment and concepts, not just in sterile labs in the field, but in replicating the true conditions in which they will be utilized.”
In fiscal year 2022, the Army will begin fielding the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle and the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, or IBCS, he said.
IBCS combines current and future air and missile defense weapons and sensors into a common fire control capability, providing Soldiers with a single system to distribute data and commands. IBCS will also enable an integrated response to complex threats.
The AMPV provides an upgrade in survivability, protection and power generation and will eventually replace the M113 family of vehicles in armored brigade combat teams.
The following year the Army expects to field an array of munitions, mid-range missiles, hypersonic weapons, a next-generation rifle and squad automatic weapons.
From fiscal 2024-2026 the Army will expand its arsenal to include future unmanned aerial systems, the long-range Precision Strike Missile, Extended Range Cannon Artillery, and Mobile Protected Firepower -- the Army’s new light tank prototype.
Whitley said the Army will then field future vertical lift capabilities to units by fiscal 2030.
The Army also leads the Project Convergence exercise series, a joint venture with the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Space Force designed to merge joint service capabilities and assets.
In September the Army and Air Force signed a two-year agreement to collaborate in the development of the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept, or JADC2.
The Army will include allied partners in the 2021 iteration of the exercise series, which Whitley said will further advance JADC2. In JADC2, the U.S. military’s services connect sensors to form a unified network, capable of rapidly making critical battlefield decisions.
“This speed and decision-making underpinned by [artificial intelligence] and the cloud will create an advantage with the health and survivability of our force,” Whitley said. “These efforts will drive joint solutions to a wide array of problem sets and inform JADC2.”