DOD materiel readiness leaders battle with getting military construction funding for tech infrastructure, which could mean slower adaptation and modernization.
The Defense Department wants to integrate emerging technologies, such as robotics and automation, on the battlefield as soon as possible. But lawmakers and defense leaders raised concern that base and depot infrastructure may face challenges keeping up.
"Do any of you have that concern, that you're going to wake up one day and not be able to have the infrastructure to work on those new technologies?" Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) asked military readiness leadership during a Nov. 21 House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing on the industrial base.
The question was initially met with silence from the panelists representing each branch and quick glances to one another. But Rogers continued, saying that depots have historically struggled to get military construction funds for infrastructure upgrades: "What do you think you're going to be able to do about that in the future? Do you think you're going to be able to be more aggressive in that front and productive?"
Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of Naval Sea Systems Command, testified the Navy had difficulties securing military construction funds because it had each of the depots "compete against themselves."
Moore said that was addressed as the Navy implemented its shipyard infrastructure optimization plan, which looks at infrastructure needs and allowed the service to increase its funding threefold. Moore said he expects that number to double again in the next three to four years.
"The Navy's shipyard infrastructure optimization plan is really meant to be an integrated plan that takes a look at the infrastructure needs across the entire organic depots that I own, and then the Navy can set the priorities and in terms of when does the work [that has] to be done," Moore said. "So I think the competition for MILCON is best served when you can put an integrated plan together and you're not just doing this one project at a time."
The Marine Corps is also working on a similar plan and has three ongoing construction projects, said Maj. Gen. Joseph Shrader, commanding general for Marine Corps Logistics Command.
Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., was one of the first DOD locations to get 5G capability and also is moving to become a "net zero energy consumer through employing renewable and resilient technologies," the commander said.
Shrader said the new 5G infrastructure "will enable us to employ more capable, automated and IT maintenance management solutions."
To prepare for imminent tech shifts, the Army is leaning heavily on Futures Command. Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-4, testified that planting logisticians in every Army cross-functional team is a primary defense to ensure infrastructure keeps pace with tech. But that's not always successful.
"In some cases, we don't know what the modernized system looks like quite yet," Gamble said. "There are decision points for every program along the way so that the industrial base, the infrastructure can be modified, improved, or reconstructed, developed or restored or modernized through [Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization] funding."
Gamble also said the Army was "cognizant" but not worried per se about declining infrastructure unable to support developing technologies.
"We don't want to wake up one day and have a system that we don't have the sustainment capability of Army to maintain it," Gamble said.