Army defends progress in acquisition reform

Army officials say acquisition reform efforts are already yielding dividends, particularly in fielding networked capabilities.

The reforms in acquisition are already making a difference, the officials said. Phillips, back from a recent visit to Afghanistan, said there’s just one complaint he’s heard most from soldiers on the ground – they need more of what they’re getting.

The Army is making significant strides in overhauling the way it buys IT systems, weapons and services. The service is paying attention to critical areas, particularly networked capabilities, according to two top officials.

Between adhering to budgetary demands, implementing guidelines issued in an Army-wide acquisition review and refining network capabilities, the service is shunning a less-than-stellar weapons-buying record as it modernizes the force, the officials indicated in a March 2 press briefing.

“Even though you hear the rhetoric that Army acquisition can’t deliver – yes, we’ve had some issues in the past – we’re working to address those issues and deliver that capability,” said Lt. Gen. William Phillips, military deputy, office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “There are a lot of naysayers out there who say the Army can’t deliver a product. I can give you example after example where the Army has delivered capability.”

Some of the more critical discussion of Army acquisition includes a 2010 study ordered by Army Secretary John McHugh that outlined 76 recommendations for improving the process.

Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, director of force development, Army G-8, said the Army is currently working to implement 63 of those 76 recommendations, with plans to finish by this summer.

“We have to get the truth out in terms of what the Army has done with acquisition,” Cucolo said. “There’s still work to do on [recommendations from the acquisition study, known as the Decker-Wagner report] and the Army has fully embraced what Decker-Wagner has provided us and is working hard on the 63 recommendations.”

Phillips and Cucolo both highlighted networked capabilities as a top priority in terms of what and how the Army is buying and deploying. The Army’s ongoing Network Integration Evaluation is helping overhaul the service’s acquisition model and field newer technologies faster, changing the way the Army does business, they said.

“The network is our number one program going forward. We haven’t always got it right; in some cases we’ve taken systems downrange and provided them to warfighters…and they’ve had to work out the bugs in the system,” Phillips said. “But [with NIE] we’re taking systems that are critical and important for the network and we’re testing them in an operationally relevant environment, putting them in the hands of soldiers so we can get feedback. It allows us to make sure we get the network more right than it is today.”

Those networked capabilities, ranging from radios to iPhones, are the foundation for how the Army will operate going forward into the future, Cucolo stressed.

“If there’s one thing that last 10 years taught us, it’s to be effective in dispersed operations, which is the core competency of the Army for joint unified land operations,” Cucolo said. “To do that, you need a four-lane information superhighway from the senior [at] the ground tactical headquarters…down to at least brigade, if not battalion-level. Then [we need] a three-lane superhighway as far down as you can go. The idea is to patch voice, data and imagery as fast as you can and while on the move.”

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