REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--In an era when Army programs are focused on making better weapon systems, it is the Soldier in the loop that makes the most significant contribution to a system's success, said one of the Army's top training officers.

"Soldiers are at the height of making the Army more capable and adaptable," said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, deputy commander-futures, and director of Army Capabilities and Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command.

"Soldiers decide, sense, shoot and make machines do things they may not have been designed to do. Soldiers are the decisive edge across all the Army missions and we owe them the best."

Speaking to about 300 military and business leaders at the 13th annual Missiles Conference sponsored by the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army on April 26 at the Von Braun Center, Vane said today's Army must operate within a $130 billion annual budget, which requires a smaller Army that gains efficiencies through modernization.

"We want a more versatile set of formations that can operate across the entire spectrum of operations," he said.

Even as budgeting strategies influence the way the Army designs and equips its forces, other unpredictable international elements - such as natural disasters and the fight for freedom from long-standing regimes -- can make for a "very challenging environment."

"We have to see the capabilities of our allies and of the potential adversaries. We have to look over the regions, and at our capabilities and the capabilities of our allies. In this global environment, our friends of today may not be our friends of tomorrow," Vane said.

"We need to know who our adversaries are and who our competitors are, and we need to know the difference."

In strategizing capabilities, the Army must look at its four-step mission - to prepare, prevent, prevail and preserve -- and determine what types of situations fall into the three categories of threat that include most probable, most dangerous and the unthinkable.

If forces are to be operationally adaptable, the concept must begin at the top with the Army's leaders.

"We need qualities in our leaders and our forces based on critical thinking if the Army is to be organized, trained and equipped for full spectrum operations," Vane said.

The future Army will be based on a modernized force structure that is more adaptable and faster, and the Army itself needs to "be a huge component in building relationships with diverse partners with focused capabilities of offense, defense and stability operations that can scale up and scale down as necessary to provide security."

The core competencies of combined arms maneuvers and wide area security operations will continue to redefine the Army.

"Battalion commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for large areas, and they need troops that have the mobility to travel rapidly over complex and dangerous terrain," Vane said.

The general named a number of new norms within the Army, including the ability to operate in complex and uncertain situations, digital literacy, space knowledge, weapons technology and intelligence.

Training the Army of the future utilizes software simulations, and a unique combination of self-paced and collective training, all focused on "what it means to be a Soldier in the profession of Army," he said.

In a comprehensive review of force structure for the Army of 2020, Vane said Army leaders have examined a broad range of security challenges, and its mission to prevail in today's war; prevent and deter conflict; prepare to defeat adversaries; and preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.

"And we must ensure we have enough structure to support at the lowest level in theaters of priority," Vane said.

In the development of new systems there needs to be a closer collaboration between Soldiers and equipment so that "we equip the man, not man the equipment," he said.

Even with the demands of a modern Army and flatter budgets, Vane said he is confident that with industry help "we will meet what the Army needs and what the country needs in terms of the missile world."

Praising the THAAD and Patriot missile systems, Vane said the Army needs more "missile systems that can engage more targets with fewer missiles" and those missiles must address the threats - indirect fire, rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices - that are killing Soldiers in theater.

In terms of missile defense, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said U.S. allies are now realizing the need for a united missile defense program.

"We are having great international success," O'Reilly told participants of the Missiles Conference. "Nations are realizing that the worst person to defend themselves in situations is the person under attack and that their neighbor is a better shot. It is an interesting aspect of missile defense and why we spend so much time in collaboration."

Missile defense programs focus on six U.S. interests - homeland defense against limited ballistic missile attacks, defense against regional missile threats, testing new capabilities under realistic operational conditions, developing new capabilities that are fiscally sustainable, developing missile defense that is flexible and adaptable to the threat, and expanding international efforts for missile defense.

The growth in interest for missile defense systems can be directly related to the growth in international threats.

"Assessments of the threat and the threat keep changing. It's a continually growing threat ... Countries that have traditionally not engaged in missile defense are asking about missile defense," O'Reilly said.

While international security often drives the military focus among allies, internally the Army's focus is on ensuring Soldiers are supported on the battlefield. The support is most easily achievable through the materiel enterprise, said Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command.

At Redstone, that materiel enterprise comprises the Aviation and Missile Command, Program Executive Office for Aviation, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, and the Army Contracting Command-Redstone.

"The enterprise process is about many organizations working together to achieve a mission," Rogers said. "It's a tight team, working very closely together because the focus is on the war fighter."

Within that materiel enterprise, the program manager is in the middle with all the organizations supporting program needs and requirements.

Toward that end, AMCOM's command priorities are to support the war fighter; enable, support and improve weapon system life cycle success; recruit, develop and sustain a top performing work force; integrate security assistance into the material enterprise; instill a culture of efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness; leverage material enterprise relationships and collaborations to derive measurable benefits to the war fighter; and assure technology protection.

Lead materiel integration and condition-based maintenance will ensure missile systems that meet the requirements of the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space to provide increased system reliability, and reduce the maintenance burden and cost.

Although Rogers expressed his concern with the obsolescence of today's missile systems and the need for industry to work with the Army in developing new systems, Brig. Gen. Ole Knudson, the program executive officer for missiles and space, told the Missiles Conference audience that the Army will only buy new systems that fit within its budget and that can be integrated together.

"There are 10 new missile system possibilities if we can figure out affordability," Knudson said. "What's it all about' Reduce cost. That's what it's about. It's about costing less."

Less expensive missile systems that work together are the future for the PEO for Missiles and Space. Operational integration of missiles will center on the IBCS, an integrated system of missile defense.

"It is an integrated system that brings complex systems of air and missile defense together," Knudson said.

Although the missile PEO has a lot of success with its command and control systems, launchers/shooters, radars and missiles/integrators, it wants to move away from "silos of excellence" that don't work together, Knudson said.

"Sometimes when we develop things we make it really hard for Soldiers to use them and to integrate them with other systems," he said. "We don't want to have as many stove pipes or silos of excellence that are hard to work with, and we want to match those new systems with affordability."