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On 2 August 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 into law. The bill provides the US government budget – for both domestic and national security spending – for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This provides a modicum of stability, and ensures that budget proceedings will not be held hostage during the 2020 congressional and presidential elections.

The bill also lifts the mandatory budget caps for all spending categories. For fiscal year (FY) 2020 the Budget Act appropriates US$738Bn for defence; adjusted for inflation, this represents a real growth of approximately 1% over the 2019 spending level. For FY2021, the bill allocates €740.5Bn in defence spending.

The bill specifies allocation of funds to the major budget categories. For the US Army the rounded figures (including Active Component, Reserves and National Guard) are:

  • Personnel expenses: US$55.8Bn, the largest single budget category;
  • Operations and Maintenance: US$51.8Bn;
  • Procurement: US$22Bn;
  • Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDTE): US$12Bn.

The budget is rounded out by smaller allocations to such categories as construction, housing, base realignment and closure, and chemical weapons destruction. Support for training and equipment missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan is estimated at US$5.8Bn for FY 2020.

  • The Army procurement budget for FY2020 breaks down into the major subcategories of:
  • Aircraft – US$3.7Bn;
  • Missile Systems – US$3.2Bn;
  • Weapons and Tracked Combat Vehicles – US$4.8Bn;
  • Ammunition – US$2.6Bn;
  • Other Procurement (including non-tracked vehicles as well as communications and electronic equipment) – US$7.6Bn.

The RDTE budget breaks down into the major subcategories:

  • Basic Research – US$455M;
  • Applied Research – US$894M;
  • Advanced Technology Development – US$1.1Bn;
  • Demonstration and Validation – US$2.9Bn;
  • Engineering Manufacturing Support – US$3.5Bn;
  • Testing and Management Support – US$1.3Bn;
  • Operational System Development – US$1.98Bn.

Precise allocation of the money to individual programmes is yet to be determined, presumably in September when Congress returns from recess. However, the Pentagon’s original budget request for 2020, as well as numerous formal statements by Army leaders and in planning documents, clearly define the service’s priorities.

Balancing Operations

The latest variant of the legacy AH-64 APACHE attack helicopter family is currently being acquired through remanufacture of 634 AH-64D variant airframes and 56 new build airframes for a total of 690 AH-64E aircraft. (Photo: US Army)

The original FY2020 budget request submitted by the Army in March 2019 emphasises the dual goals of enhancing current readiness while simultaneously modernising the force in order to prevail in future conflicts. “The FY2020 budget is a major milestone in the Army’s implementation of the NDS [National Defence Strategy] and recovery from depleted levels of readiness brought about by nearly 18 years of sustained conflict and 9 years of constrained budgets. Our adversaries capitalised on this period of strategic atrophy by modernising their militaries and closing the overmatch we held for decades. Guided by the NDS, the FY2020 budget places the Army on a clear path to remain ready, modernise and increase the Army’s lethality to stay ahead of its competitors both now and well into the future. The first priority is readiness and this budget puts us on track to reach the required NDS readiness level by FY2022. The next priority is modernisation and this budget positions the Army to reach the NDS driven modernisation goals by 2028.” [Office of the Defence Undersecretary (Comptroller), Defence Budget Overview, March 2019, p. 9-2]
To support these goals, senior generals in late 2018/early 2019 conducted an in-depth review of current spending, with an eye to programmes that could be cancelled, reduced or delayed in order to free up funding for higher priority programmes. As a result, over a five-year period the Army proposes to cut US$31.5Bn in previously planned spending on nearly 200 current programmes, and transfer that money to projects with a more immediate impact on readiness and modernisation. The FY2020 portion of that figure amounts to US$3.6Bn. Whether all of the recommended cuts will be approved by Congress remains to be seen, but the aggregate impact of this decision will fuel the modernisation and reform process.

The Big Six Priorities

The modernisation strategy is primarily geared toward adversaries with sophisticated capabilities, both at the conventional level and at the asymmetric level, including cyberwarfare and space operations. While medium-scale or regional powers such as Iran and North Korea have been systematically enhancing their military capabilities – both through domestic development and through imports – the NDS has squarely returned the Pentagon’s focus to preparing for the eventuality of a peer-level conflict against either Russia or China.

Overall, the Army plans to invest US$57Bn in modernisation over the next five years (74% more than anticipated in prior five-year plans), with the pace of investment and development set to increase significantly as of FY2021. Beginning that year, RDA (Research, Development and Acquisition) accounts for the modernisation priorities will exceed the investments for comparable legacy programmes, according to Army Comptroller Lt. General James Pasquarette. Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy gave a more cautious assessment in May, citing 2024 as the year in which investments in developmental systems and legacy systems draw even; for reference, at the end of FY2017 the development vs. legacy ratio was 80:20.

Under Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy discusses newly activated Army Futures Command during a roundtable held at the command’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, 24 August 2018. The Army Futures Command’s mission is to develop how future Army organisations will fight with new technology and ensure rapid delivery of war fighting capabilities. (Photo: US Army)

The Army’s technology modernisation plans focus on 31 distinct initiatives (a portion of which are concept development projects rather than full-fledged programmes of record) organised into six categories. These “Big Six” categories receive 80% of the RDTE budget allocation. These categories are (in order of importance):

Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF)

Over the 2020-2024 timeframe, the Army plans to invest US$5.7Bn in long-range tube, rocket and missile artillery programmes. At the lower end of the spectrum, LRFP seeks to extend the effective range of 155mm howitzers from the current 30 kilometres to at least 70 kilometres by 2023 through modification of the artillery with longer barrels as well as through development of longer range precision munitions (Extended Range Cannon Artillery – ERCA). The prototype of the Precision Strike Missile PSM is expected to be tested in 2023; the missile’s target range of 496 kilometres will likely be significantly extended now that the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty is defunct. At the extreme end of the spectrum the Army seeks to develop a Strategic Long-Range Cannon capable of firing rocket-propelled projectiles to a distance of 1,800 kilometres, and a hypersonic missile with an objective range in excess of 2,200 kilometres. The hypersonic weapon is being developed in coordination with the Air Force and Navy, with each service proving elements of the system (in the Army’s case, the hypersonic glide body), and individually configuring the weapon to their own needs. The Army plans to stand up a testing battery with four missile carriers and eight hypersonic missiles by 2023, according to the Programme Executive Officer, Lt. General Niel Thurgood. LRFP is given top priority among the modernisation categories because analyses show that, in the early weeks of a conflict against a peer-competitor, the US is unlikely to enjoy air dominance; instead, the Army will carry the initial burden of degrading enemy air defence, missile forces, and staging areas.

Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV)

A 5 kW laser integrated on a STRYKER participated in the Manoeuvre Fires Integrated Experiment (MFIX) at Fort Sill, 5 April 2017. The Army is now accelerating the rapid prototyping and fielding of 50 kW-class lasers on a platoon of STRYKERs. (Photo: US Army)

The five-year spending plan for future armoured combat systems is valued at US$13.2Bn. NGCV is likely to encompass a family of vehicles designed to ultimately replace the current Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) and, in the long term, the Abrams main battle tank (MBT). Manned, optionally manned, and unmanned systems are being considered under the NGCV category. The coming five years will see testing, prototype redesign, and additional testing for the BRADLEY successor vehicle (the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle or OMFV), as well as the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) combat support vehicle and some robotic vehicles. The FY2020 budget provides US$378M for OMFV and US$310M for MPF in that year alone. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for both manned systems is expected for 2026 and 2025, respectively. Testing of light and medium robotic combat systems to support the manned armoured vehicles is scheduled to begin in 2020, with testing of a heavy robotic vehicle to follow.

Future Vertical Lift (FVL)

FVL is slated to receive US$4.7Bn over the next five years. The programme seeks to develop and acquire a family of five next-generation aircraft to replace current combat and utility helicopters. The Army is currently pursuing simultaneous development of the two medium-sized FVL types, the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA). Extra funding added over previous planning should enable an accelerated design and testing stage, leading to earlier than planned fielding. FLRAA is now intended to enter service circa 2030 and replace the UH-60 as a troop carrier. FARA is needed to fill the gap left by the retirement of the OH-58 KIOWA WARRIOR armed reconnaissance helicopter, but is also slated to replace circa half of the 700 AH-64 APACHE attack helicopters in the current fleet. The Army hopes to accelerate FARA initial operational capability from the current target of 2028. Various technologies are being considered for both systems, including conventional helicopters, helicopters with coaxial rotor technology, and tiltrotors.

Raytheon is developing DEEPSTRIKE to meet the US Army’s Precision Strike Missile requirement. (Photo: Raytheon)

Mobile Network

Development of the new mobile command, control, communications and intelligence network is slated to cost US$12.5Bn over the next five years. It will encompass a joint battle command platform to provide tactical situational awareness from the brigade to the platoon level, as well as portable communications and data devices, including commercial-off-the-shelf hardware equipped with military-specific applications.

Air and Missile Defense (AMD)

New AMD systems (including weapons and sensors) capable of defending against sophisticated enemy weapons including stealth aircraft, highly manoeuvrable cruise and ballistic missiles, and hypervelocity projectiles will require US$8.8Bn for development over the next five years. Technologies being pursued include traditional air defence missiles as well as high-powered lasers and microwave weapons, the latter primarily intended to counter UAVs. FY2020 appropriations include US$243M for integration and testing of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Block 1, designed to defeat cruise missiles, UAVs, and shorter range rocket, artillery and mortar threats. Another major AMD focus is the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defence Sensor, a gallium-nitride based Radar intended to improve range and accuracy of the Patriot AMD system. The FY2020 budget provides US$418M to initiate prototype manufacturing and integration.

Soldier Lethality

To enhance operational capability and adapt to new threats, the Pentagon plans to combine EW assets along with cyber and information operations capabilities across all echelons of the Army. (PHOTO: US Army)

The Soldier Lethality category mostly encompasses offensive and force-multiplier infantry equipment. Development costs are estimated at US$6.7Bn for the 2020-2024 timeframe.
Observers frequently note that LRFP and FLV – which the Army explicitly categorises as the first- and third most important modernisation accounts – receive the least funding of the “Big Six”. Undersecretary McCarthy explains that some research and development programmes are simply more expensive than others. This is largely dictated by the different state of readiness of the various technologies. Initial research and development is generally cheaper than experimentation and prototyping (which itself is less costly than entering Low Rate of Production or LRIP). For example, while development of new howitzer ammunition and range-extending barrels is progressing well, the more ambitious elements of the LRFP category are largely in the concept development stage, which reduces short-term budgetary pressure on the LRFP category as a whole. By contrast, other categories such as NGCV or AMD are – at least in part – examining systems with currently available prototypes or concept demonstrators, while several AMD projects are repurposing currently operational technology for new uses.

The Soldier Lethality modernisation category encompasses more than weapons; the quantity and capabilities of Soldier-wearable technologies are expected to increase significantly, as will the need for power and energy sources to operate them. (Photo: US Army)

Readiness Enhancement

Despite the high-profile modernisation programs, readiness remains the number one priority according to General Mark Milley, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During an interview given in April while still Army Chief of Staff, Milley stated that the service has already made significant improvements since 2015. “I think we were on a downward slope of readiness relative to the tasks required to be able to fight near-peer competitors,” Milley said. “Our readiness was probably okay for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism but not for the higher end of warfare. At that time, we really only had two or three brigades at the highest levels of readiness; today we’re in excess of 20.” In August, Ryan McCarthy boosted the assessment to 25 ready brigades. While the Army’s objective is to maintain 66% of active component brigades and 33% of Reserve and National Guard brigades at the highest readiness level, the current readiness level stands at approximately 40% across the board. The Army expects to meet the objective readiness level by 2022 or 2023. To this end, the FY2020 budget request allocated 53% of the active duty operations and maintenance fund to Land Force Readiness and Land Force Readiness Support activities. For the Army Reserve and National Guard, the corresponding figure is circa 80%.

Legacy Upgrades

One aspect of enhancing readiness is upgrading the capabilities of weapon systems currently in the inventory, or procuring advanced variants of such legacy systems, until next generation systems become available. Just for FY2020 the Army requested US$1.75Bn to upgrade the Abrams MBT to the M1A2C configuration which features an improved power system, survivability enhancements, and a reduced maintenance requirement. A fourth variant upgrade, the M1A2D featuring enhanced lethality through addition of a 3rd generation FLIR, is still under consideration for implementation in the next few years.

Other legacy system upgrades featured in the Army’s FY 2020 budget request include:

  • US$639M for M2A2 BRADLEY IFV upgrades and modifications;
  • US$807M for remanufacture of AH-64D APACHE attack helicopters to the AH-64E configuration;
  • US$737M for the purchase of 147 Patriot MSE (Missile Segment Enhancement) AMD missiles and 40 launcher modification kits (plus auxiliary equipment);
  • US$387M for upgrades to MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) artillery carriers;
  • US$341M to upgrade and extend the service life of legacy ATACMS tactical missiles (range: 300 kilometres)

In addition, some new systems have recently entered service and are in Low-Rate or Full-Rate of Production (LRIP/FRIP), while some legacy systems continue to be produced and procured. The FY2020 request for procurement includes:

  • US$996M for procurement of 2,530 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (long term acquisition of the JLTV has been reduced by 1,900 vehicles through 2028 on the premise that the vehicle is too vulnerable for frontline operations against a peer opponent);
  • US$1.1Bn for the purchase of 73 UH-60 BLACK HAWK utility helicopters;
  • US$550M for procurement of the latest Stryker combat vehicle variant, which features both survivability and lethality upgrades;
  • US$553M for procurement of the latest variant of the PALADIN 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer.

Force Structure

In addition to new technology and additional hardware, the Army is reorganising the force structure to enhance readiness and lethality. This includes embedding greater combat support capability into field units. Examples cited in spring by Undersecretary McCarthy include standing up additional air defence and MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) long range rocket artillery batteries. The air defence portfolio in turn consists of several elements, including the STRYKER IM-SHORAD (InterMediate SHOrt Range Air Defence) system which fills a pressing capabilities gap, especially with units forward deployed in the European theatre. SHORAD alone is being budgeted at US$262M for FY2020. This will procure 44 operational STRYKER air defence vehicles, and is double what previous Army planning had allocated to SHORAD for the two-year period 2020-2021. Through 2024 the Army seeks to acquire 144 STRYKER SHORAD systems, enough to equip four complete batteries. The first battery is scheduled to deploy to Europe by the end of 2020.
Enhanced offensive electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, which are to be integrated in brigade combat teams, are also being developed. While not included in the “Big Six” modernisation categories, offensive EW is considered a vital force multiplier, especially in scenarios involving Russia which itself fields highly sophisticated EW capabilities. The Army has currently budgeted US$3.4Bn for development of tactical EW systems (which will include signals intelligence and a basic cyber warfare capability) over the 2020-2024 timeframe. Lt. General James Pasquarette, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Resources, indicated during a conference in June that additional funding might be forthcoming beginning with the FY2021 budget. IOC for the vehicle based EW system (dubbed Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System or TLIS, despite the inclusion of broad spectrum offensive EW capabilities) is expected in the 2022-2023 timeframe.

Germany’s Rheinmetall has partnered with Raytheon to offer the KF41 LYNX armoured fighting vehicle for the Army’s OMFV competition. (Photo: Rheinmetall)

A further readiness-enhancing goal is staffing brigade combat teams at 105% of their formal authorisation; this aims to ensure deployment at full strength despite the inevitable temporary loss of personnel due to illness or injury. For FY2020 the Army budget request called for a modest increase of 2,000 active duty personnel authorisations, for an active duty strength of 480,000 soldiers. The Army’s ultimate objective is an end-strength of just over 500,000 for the active duty force and a comparable increase for the reserve components. Neither the current budget nor the current recruiting environment are conducive the meeting the expansion goals, with even the Pentagon conceding that the objective force level cannot be met by 2024 as originally anticipated. While the Army is currently struggling to maintain its overall manpower level (and the budget act fails to appropriate the full US$60.4Bn personnel funding requested by the Pentagon), the service plans to prioritise manning of combat units by reducing administrative positions. In this context the Army also has implemented the “deploy or get out” programme requiring all personnel – whether serving in combat or support roles – to be fit for deployment to conflict zones. Additional funding for training is also provided for, increasing entry-level infantry training from 14 to 22 weeks, and significantly expanding brigade level exercises at combat training centres, as well as multilateral exercises in Europe and Asia.

Sidney E. Dean is President of Transatlantic Euro-American Multimedia LLC. and a regular contributor to ESD.