Generals want faster, focused procurement

One of the Army's top thinkers wants the service to dramatically change the way it buys equipment, focusing on delivering gear to deploying units rather than locking itself into long-term commitments to field technologies for the entire force.

Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, who this summer led a task force charged with redefining how the Army will modernize its fighting forces, has devised a strategy that can be summed up by this mantra: "Buy fewer, more often."

Vane, director of Training and Doctrine Command's Army Capabilities Integration Center, wants the Army to trade its long, deliberate buying cycles -- and some of the bureaucracy that accompanies it -- for shorter-term plans to get equipment to brigades heading into combat.

That would give the Army the option of revising its procurement plans and upgrading equipment and technology for the next set of brigades to be deployed.

"That allows you then to take what is the next best thing in technology and insert it instead of what we do today, [which is saying] 'I'm going to lock in a system design ... with this vehicle and then it'll take me 10 years to produce it,'" Vane said in an interview this week. "This is an adaptive enemy."

Vane's strategy, devised after the demise of the Army's $160 billion Future Combat Systems earlier this year, is reminiscent of the way the military has bought and fielded Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles.

Rather than wait for the perfect solution, the military opted to buy batches of the vehicles, which have been adapted over time to offer better protection, more mobility and, most recently, a version better suited for the rugged terrain in Afghanistan.

In the last decade, the Army also quickly bought and fielded Strykers, wheeled vehicles that have been used during ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But service officials have had less success with long-term programs such as FCS ground vehicles, the Crusader howitzer and the Comanche reconnaissance and attack helicopter -- all of which have been canceled since 2002.

"The absolute requirement is going to be the best of class in theater," Vane said. "What's the best of everything we could get out of what industry could do? That's the bottom-line requirement."

But even with the focus on wartime requirements, Vane said the Army does not plan to abandon futuristic thinking entirely.

"We're still going to stretch ourselves 10 years beyond that," Vane said. "But we want to make that [future technologies] something that becomes [an incentive for] industry and part of the competition, not part of the absolute requirement."

The strategy has seemed to resonate with Army Chief of Staff George Casey, who told reporters this week that war demands quick fielding schedules for new technologies, such as the future ground combat vehicle that will replace the manned ground vehicles that formed the hardware centerpiece of FCS.

"We're going to try to strike the right balance between leveraging technology that [is] available so that we're not doing wishful thinking, but at the same time pressing the system as fast as we can," Casey said.

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