Army leaders may not make the best advocates when it comes to convincing Congress and the American people which systems soldiers really need, said the Army’s secretary.
On the flip side, Congress is not without its own biases when it comes to those decisions, said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.
The path forward, he pointed out, is to use findings from third-party “analytics” sources.
Since third party sources “don’t have skin in the game, they can look at systems in a more detached way, maybe more so than the Army or Congress can,” McHugh said, speaking April 30 at a breakfast with the Defense Writers Group.
McHugh, himself a congressman for 17 years, prefaced his remarks by saying he has the utmost respect for congressional oversight.
Non-biased finding, he said, are particularly necessary as decisions are now being made on which programs to cut, delay, not start or reduce as the effects of sequestration and continuing resolutions continue to take their toll on Army modernization and readiness.
To illustrate the point, he provided two examples where the Army used third-party findings to make its case.
The first example was the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank (System Enhanced Program.)
“There’s a gap between the numbers we think are accurate and those the manufacturer and others believe are more accurate,” he said, referring to the cost of shutting down production.
“We asked RAND to take a careful look at the cost of taking down the Abrams line and then later starting it back up.” He implied that it would be restarted once funding becomes available and enhancements are ready.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit organization that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis.
“RAND came back and said to shut the line down at Lima (Ohio) and then to reopen it again later would cost $342 million. That was substantially below the manufacturer’s estimate,” he said, adding that “we accept that figure as a workable number.”
“It may not be the ideal decision for everyone, but these times suggest we have to prioritize our resources in (the) most appropriate way,” he said. “It’s a great program, but at this time we don’t need it and the money could be spent in other ways.”
The second example given by the secretary was that of the Ground Combat Vehicle, or GCV, a replacement for aging armored fighting vehicles.
The Army hired A. T. Kearney, “a respected industrial and analytics firm” to study its production and procurement. He said the Army would likely get their findings by June.
McHugh said he thinks GCVs are needed and would provide critical capabilities for Soldiers on the battlefield and he thinks the study will support that.
He pointed out that there are tens of thousands of Soldiers still in Afghanistan and that discussions on modernization are germane to current operations, not just to a theoretical future war.
Besides approving the Army’s budget request and eliminating sequestration, another way Congress could help the Army would be to authorize it to do a specific analysis on a future round of base realignment and closure, known as BRAC, McHugh said.
“We’re over-structured” and could use another round of BRAC, he said, adding that he was involved in three rounds of BRAC while serving in Congress.
“They’re not fun. I recognize the difficulties (base closings) bring to people’s lives,” he said.
However, he said, money saved through a thoughtful BRAC process could be better spent on keeping safe the soldiers who are in harm’s way or supporting programs such as the Ready and Resilient Campaign.
McHugh said it’s a waste to maintain infrastructure “that is simply not useable or isn’t being used; and that just adds to our energy inefficiency.”
The last BRAC study was done a decade ago and it pointed to 20 percent excess infrastructure, McHugh said.
The Army has been steadily engaged in the Pacific region for some time now though humanitarian and natural disaster assistance, training with other armies, strengthening alliances, building partner capacity and looking for new partners
Despite the fiscal situation, the Army will not cut funding for those engagements, McHugh said, citing some 24 bilateral and multilateral exercises scheduled in the coming year. As well, he said the National Guard plans to expand its state partnership program in that area and elsewhere.
Also, the Army intends to make the commander of U.S. Army Pacific a four-star general. The reason for doing so, McHugh said, is to put the commander “on a more equal footing to engage with other leaders across the Pacific Rim.”
The secretary also said it would be a “mistake” to think of the new strategy as somehow intending to confront China.
“I was very encouraged by the Chinese military leadership’s recent visit where (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey) met with his Chinese counterpart to discuss working cooperatively for mutual interest in the Pacific region,” McHugh said. “We want to build and strengthen positive military ties with the Chinese throughout that region. We intend to pursue those efforts on every level.”