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Abrams: Army units will be tasked to work on each of Futures Command’s priorities

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — There are eight cross-functional teams tasked with tackling the Army’s modernization needs, and this time around, leaders are taking care to get soldier feedback from the get-go.

So before they’ve reached even initial operational capability, scheduled for this summer, the head of Army Forces Command has begun aligning CFTs with the Army’s numbered corps to test new devices and equipment.

“This is where we get immediate soldier feedback to help refine requirements,” Gen. Robert Abrams told Army Times on Tuesday at the AUSA Global Force Symposium. “One of our challenges all along has been, in the current acquisition process, we bring soldiers in kind of late, we bring commanders in late.”

Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commanding general of Army Forces Command, speaks during the MG Robert G. Moorhead National Guard/Army Reserve Breakfast at the AUSA annual meeting. (Mike Morones for Army Times)
Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commanding general of Army Forces Command, speaks during the MG Robert G. Moorhead National Guard/Army Reserve Breakfast at the AUSA annual meeting. (Mike Morones for Army Times)

Now, CFTs will be able to call up their assigned commander to coordinate a research session.

“Hey, we want to try something out three weeks from now – I need 10 soldiers to come down to Benning, 10 soldiers to go up to Vermont, 10 soldiers to go here, 10 soldiers to go there,” Abrams said, explaining the plan. “Hey I need a platoon to go, and we’re going to put stuff in their hands and try it out.”

The teams are aligned according to a few factors, Abrams said, based not only on what the corps itself does, but where divisions are in operational tempo and how innovative their leaders are.

For example, most of the Army’s infantry brigade combat teams are under XVIII Airborne Corps, so they have taken on the soldier lethality portfolio, Abrams said.

They also have the network, where 82nd Airborne Division soldiers began testing new communications equipment last summer.

Meanwhile, III Corps has the next-generation combat vehicle — because they’re home to eight of the service’s nine armored brigade combat teams — as well as synthetic training, because the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas-based CFT is only a couple hours from Fort Riley.

“They probably have our best, what we call a mission command training center, where we do our exercises,” Abrams said of Riley.

And long-range precision fires landed at I Corps, because they are already involved in a multi-domain task force prototype that is launching next year under U.S. Army Pacific.

Those Army Futures Command is still standing up, the CFTs are off and running with a handful of projects, based on programs the Army has already been working, and commercially available products the Army is scouting for its own.

One of these is the enhanced night vision goggles, at the top of the list for the soldier lethality CFT.

“Putting that into the conventional force with the speed – [Joint Special Operations Command] was testing these about three years ago – if you look at historically, it would take a decade to get something like that,” Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy told Army Times.

Meanwhile, the network CFT is looking at commercial products, he said, because the research and development is already done.

“The applications move so quickly in the communications space, that we need to think very hard about, how do you keep pace?” he said. “The development work just takes too long.”

And though it might be years before all of these things are in every unit, McCarthy said he’s encouraged by the progress they’ve already made.

“We mentioned yesterday, we have a big discussion on future vertical lift this cycle, as well as next-gen combat vehicle and long-range precision fires,” he said.

Not every soldier will have a hand in this modernization overhaul, Abrams said, but initial response from selected units has been positive.

“When we put this stuff in the hands of soldiers, they’re providing the feedback … ‘Hey, thank goodness you’re asking us this now, because we can solve a lot of these things right now.’ “

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