U.S. National Security Hinges on Total Army Modernization

The first full-size pickup truck to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick accolade made headlines back in 2009. Nearly a decade later that same pickup received the lowest possible rating in its class, earning a “poor” grade from the American highway safety regulator in 2018.

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What changed? Just about everything, but the truck.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens when organizations fail to overhaul their prized, engineering marvels. History has shown that if the rest of the world is given time to study the blueprint for success, it doesn’t take long for a new leader to advance with better technology – which is why innovation has become a cornerstone of any successful organization in today’s ever-changing technological world.

That notion is especially important in the military sphere, where the stakes are much higher. As global powers like Russia and China continue to bolster their defenses, the U.S. is facing an important question with implications that could define the future of every single American: Is it time for a complete modernization of the U.S. Army? 

Most military experts agree that years of sustained combat and reduced defense spending have made it much easier for America’s competitors to bridge the military gap. 

“It’s a hard thing to explain to the American people. They always assume we have the very best of everything. That has been true in the past. It’s not true today,” said U.S. Senator and Acting Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Jim Inhofe in his opening statement during the 2019 National Defense Authorization Budget Request meeting, earlier this year. “The Army has made significant progress in rebuilding readiness across the force, but there’s still a lot to be done.”

Like the pickup truck that was once at the top of its class, the Army’s flagship assault aircraft, which has been its front-line utility helicopter since 1978, is in no longer the game-changing threat it was when it first took flight more than 40 years ago. The world has evolved. The enemy is smarter, faster and has greater access to world-class technology. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley testified before the Armed Services Committee in March, detailing the Army’s budgetary needs and breaking down exactly what the Army is looking for in its next- generation aircraft. “We’re looking for an aircraft…that essentially goes further, can see further, can acquire targets further and can engage at greater ranges than currently exist…” he said.  

There’s at least one aircraft prototype being developed right now that would accomplish all of Gen. Milley’s requests. However, acquiring a next-generation aircraft that readies the Army for the future cannot be fully developed and delivered under the current economic allowances set forth by Congress. Modernization will take a significant investment that many military strategists agree is a no-brainer in today’s world of rising tensions among the powers that be.

If Congress approves the Army’s 2020 fiscal year budget proposal of $182.3 billion, the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military could be well on its way toward modernization.

The funds could open up the Army’s plans to develop an entirely new family of military helicopters, as part of its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program calling for up to 4,000 new medium-class helicopters. The need for new aircraft is just one example of the many areas where the Army is desperate for modernization. The modern battlefield not only comprises all domains, including air, land, sea, space and cyberspace, but also includes geographic areas that are increasing across the globe.

The Army’s budget request is part of an overall Department of Defense budget proposal of $718.3 billion, which Congress is set to vote on later this year.  

"With the largest research and development request in 70 years, this strategy-driven budget makes necessary investments in next-generation technology, space, missiles, and cyber capabilities,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in a statement. “The operations and capabilities supported by this budget will strongly position the U.S. military for great power competition for decades to come." 

It shouldn’t go without saying, however, that according to the Army, it does currently stand ready today to defeat any adversary that threatens the U.S. or its national interests. Even So, the military gap is closing fast and countries like Russia have had the U.S. in their crosshairs for decades. In fact, Gen. Milley stated in his testimony before Congress that Russia is an existential threat to the U.S. 

“They [Russia] have been very aggressive in the last, call it, decade or so,” said Gen. Milley. “They are intentionally, with malfeasance of forethought, trying to undermine NATO on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and with a variety of tactics, techniques and procedures that are just below the level of war.” 

As threat levels continue to rise with Russia and other world powers, the Army has no choice but to adapt to new and emerging threat landscapes to defend America, protect its interests and to support its allies in the 21st century. Otherwise, the alternative is something no American wants to think about.

“The Russians are building new tanks. The Russians are modernizing their fighting vehicles. They’re modernizing their air defense systems,” said Honorable Mark T. Esper, secretary of the Army, in his testimony before the Armed Services Committee, also in March. “Across the board, they are doing things that we need to get on with doing, and this budget and the billions of dollars we shift will get us there, so we are prepared to deter them and, if necessary, defeat them.”

The world is changing faster than ever before. It’s no longer a matter of if the Army should undergo complete modernization, but when. So, the question arises: How many more years can the U.S. put it off? Remember, it took less than a decade for the world’s safest full-size truck to drop to the bottom of its class. It’s been 40 years since the Army replaced its most-trusted assault aircraft. 

But unlike automotive manufacturers, the Army isn’t playing for trophies, it’s fighting for our national security. The time for Army modernization is now.