Army vacuum could affect transformation

Army Secretary Thomas White, who announced his resignation last month, is just one of three high-level service officials who are leaving the Army just as the service enters a critical stage of its sweeping transformation initiative.

White resigned April 25 reportedly because he disagreed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about modernizing the military and its battle strategies.

But some observers say the more important changes for the Army's Objective Force initiative will come in June with the retirements of Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki and Army chief information officer Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello.

Shinseki often is credited with first making transformation a high-profile issue within the Pentagon, and his departure will have a greater impact on the Army's evolution than White's, said Jack Spencer, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

"Especially in the case of Shinseki, he really built the foundation for transformation," Spencer said. "It will be the next person's responsibility to carry that vision forward and make it a reality."

The Objective Force is a strategy to develop advanced information technology tools, vehicles and weapons that will make the Army's armored forces better able to survive an all-out fight.

Future Combat Systems, the Army's combat transformation cornerstone, is a networked family of systems that uses advanced communications and other technologies to link soldiers with manned and unmanned air and ground platforms and sensors.

John Grady, director of communications at the Association of the U.S. Army, said FCS is well-funded in the fiscal 2003 and 2004 budgets and is included in future defense planning. Nevertheless, he said everyone will be taking a "wait-and-see attitude" as far as what the fiscal 2005 budget will include.

"Do these departures signal an end to that course of action? I don't see it like that," Grady said, noting that FCS is on pace for its next significant milestone decision in mid-May, when the program will enter the system development and demonstration phase.

Maj. Gen. Steven Boutelle will succeed Cuviello as CIO, but Rumsfeld has not named replacements for White or Shinseki. "I'm sure Rumsfeld will pick someone who shares his vision," Spencer said.

And that gives Rumsfeld free rein to make any changes he sees fit, especially because Gen. John Keane, the Army's vice chief of staff, has already announced that he will not succeed Shinseki, according to a former Army IT official.

"I would not be as worried, but Gen. Keane is also leaving," said the former Army officer, who requested anonymity. "He was the continuity factor and now the Army staff doesn't have any of that."

The leadership changes could signify that Rumsfeld did not think the current Army leadership was capable of making his vision for the service's transformation a reality, the retired Army official said.

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