In the last year, the Army has embarked on several major modernization goals, creating cross-functional teams for major priorities and the new four-star Army Futures Command, the first such effort in decades.

Bruce Jette has served as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and during that time he helped shepherd the Army’s efforts to modernize following almost two decades of war.

On Thursday, Jette sat down with reporters at a Defense Writers Group meeting to discuss the Army’s ongoing modernization work.

Your office now coordinates with the recently created Army Futures Command and the cross-functional teams. What is a concrete example of how work in priority areas has changed with the addition of these new organizations?

I’ll give you a prime example. In the past, we looked at air defense as systems. The way you do air defense [is], okay, I’ve got this altitude, that altitude and that altitude. I need a system that works at those altitudes. Okay, you told me to develop and build a system that can deal with a threat at this altitude, that altitude or another altitude.

They were standalone concepts. The integration of them in a battlespace was purely done at the operator level. So, when I deliver a system under that methodology, I give you the Patriot battery. [It] stands alone, all you’ve got to do is put fuel in the thing, a couple of soldiers, and the thing works.

So, we’ve taken a look at the overall threat environment. The threat environment has become more complicated. It’s not just tactical ballistic missiles or jets or helicopters. Now we’ve got UAVs, we’ve got swarms, we’ve got cruise missiles, we’ve got rockets, artillery, mortar. I’ve got to find a way to integrate all of this.

So, using the cross-functional teams, the technical side has come back and said, “Listen, normally if you want to deal with some of the inbounds that are not missiles, things like rockets, artillery and mortars, the radars that come with the Patriot battery are not the same radars you need to see RAM. Oh, by the way, we were working on this thing for the air defense that’s called Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, delivering next December, systems that are deployable.”

So, I don’t deliver you a Patriot battery anymore — I deliver you missile systems; I deliver you radars; I deliver you a command-and-control architecture. They all integrate, and any of the C2 components can fire any of the sets, leverage any of the sensor systems to employ an effector against any of the threats. This has positioned us to put artificial intelligence in the backside to optimize against the threat that we see in the aggregate.

What role does artificial intelligence play in the work that your office is doing, especially in Army technology?

AI is critically important. You’ll hear a theme inside of ASA(ALT), “Time is a weapon.”

Undersecretary [of the Army] Ryan McCarthy has been active in positioning for being able to pick up on some of these critical new technology areas. AFC has responsibility to focus on AI for requirements and research. We’ve established a center at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for AI, and AFC has established a uniformed person and he’s trying to put his arms around AI in an operational context and what has to go into the background.

Meantime, the undersecretary and I and ASA(ALT) are going to be establishing for the Army a managerial approach to this. We’re trying to structure an AI architecture that will become enduring and will facilitate our ability to allocate resources and conduct research and implementation of those AI capabilities throughout the force. There are AI efforts ongoing, it’s just that we need to organize for combat, so to speak.

So, here’s one issue that we’re going to run into. People get worried about whether a weapons system has AI controlling the weapon. And there are some constraints about what we’re allowed to do with AI. Here’s your problem: If I can’t get AI involved with being able to properly manage weapons systems and firing sequences, then in the long run I lose the time window.

An example is let’s say you fire a bunch of artillery at me, and I need to fire at them, and you require a man in the loop for every one of those shots. There’s not enough men to put in the loop to get them done fast enough. So, there’s no way to counter those types of shots. So how do we put AI hardware and architecture but do proper policy? Those are some of the wrestling matches we’re dealing with right now.

Last year your office moved from an annual program review process to adding in monthly meetings to evaluate program progress. What’s been the result of this change?

Much less pain. We have System Acquisition Review reporting. We report to Congress on our Major Defense Acquisition Programs every year, and we have to tell them how it’s going. At each level, we have certification requirements. In that process of doing those reports, we do these program reviews.

I do basically a mini SAR review every six weeks with the entire Army staff senior leadership, with the secretary and chief present. If you figure out what’s important and make a way to put metrics and reporting processes together, it makes it so much less painful.

We report regularly, we report often, we report any change. If any change occurs that I need [the Army secretary] to know about, if it’s a significant one, he gets an email that day, then an information paper comes to follow up, and then we’ll update him at the next briefing. And then if it’s an issue that’s an ongoing one, then we go ahead and ensure things are done. In some cases, he gets in the plane and has flown up to meet with the CEO of the company.

The [Army] secretary is very much about making us much more accessible to industry. Dinner every Monday night with a CEO of a company has been everything from a big defense contracting company to a second- or third-tier supplier. To know what did we do that we could do better, and what did we not ask for that we should be asking for? This much deeper involvement is making it much easier to keep on track.

How are new approaches, such as ‘racking and stacking’ groups of Army acquisitions and programs, being evaluated by senior leadership?

We began something we call the deep dives. Funding is broken up into Program Element Groups, or PEGs, or groupings. Procurement is one of the PEGs. Money comes with different constraints on what we can and can’t use it for. To manage those priorities and comply with the law, we have these PEGs. All procurement-style money gets managed through the equipping PEG.

Last year, the secretary and the chief and I sat and went through every single program and said, “why are we doing this?” Because the truth of the matter is programs have momentum. So, why are we doing that? Because we did it last year. Do we need it? Is it the most important thing? Should we reallocate that funding against something else?

We did this through all of the PEGs and prioritized all of the funding allocations for the Army. It was a very deliberate process we went through last year for the secretary and the chief to go through those things and prioritize where does the Army’s operational effectiveness come from and are we properly funding and how much of that is just because of momentum and what should we do about it? We did that and a series of deep dive follow ups through the year.

None of that stuff’s been announced, and I’m not going to be the one to do it. That’s the secretary’s prerogative. He’s got to go over and talk with Congress, tell them why we’re doing things and sort through those pieces before he starts putting out details of what got cut and what got skinnied down or what got plussed up.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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