WASHINGTON -- The Army requires consistent, predictable and sustained funding for readiness and modernization efforts to ensure overmatch against a near-peer competitor, the acting Army secretary said during a budget hearing Wednesday.
"The Army has taken manageable risks to deliver the speed and capability needed to match our adversaries, but unforecasted operations and inconsistent funding are paid from readiness, infrastructure, and modernization accounts," John E. Whitley said before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense.
For the past year, the Army has remained the nation's principal response force during times of need by providing support during the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, civil unrest, and the Southwest border, Whitley said.
All the while, the Army continued to support missions in more than 140 countries around the world while serving as the Department of Defense's most lethal and decisive land force, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville.
"The Army currently has 485,000 Soldiers in the regular Army and a little more than 1 million in the total force. That is roughly the same size that the Army had on 9/11," McConville said, adding he would like to see a larger force in the future.
Six years ago, Army readiness levels declined after years of reduced funding and uncertain budgets. Through congressional support, the service rebuilt and built its tactical and strategic readiness levels respectively, both leaders said in their written testimony.
Given that people are the Army's most important weapon system, readiness is fragile during times of financial uncertainty and requires continued congressional support to maintain, the testimony read.
Continued reduction to readiness levels is anecdotally similar to a professional sports team called up to play in a championship game without proper practice, McConville said.
"We would never consider doing that," he added. "It is the same thing with our troops. They have to train [through] deliberate practice and rehearsals to make sure they are masters of their craft."
Budget cuts that impact readiness also influence units as they find ways to reduce costs. For example, units have reallocated funding for spare parts or delayed preventive maintenance on equipment to fund other requirements. This process created a readiness gap, which is what senior leaders are trying to avoid again, McConville said.
The Army has also become the DOD lead for technology and concepts, Whitley said. Army Futures Command and its cross-functional teams have worked hard to develop and refine the service's six modernization priorities and more than 30 signature systems with new doctrine and organizations to match.
Modernization priorities include long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
"Overmatch will belong to the side that can make decisions faster," the written testimony read. "To meet emerging challenges, the Army is transforming to provide the joint force with speed, range, and convergence of cutting edge technologies that will generate the decision dominance and overmatch required to win the next fight."
The Army's multi-domain operations concept, slated to become doctrine later this year, will serve as the foundation for how the Army will engage across the land, air, maritime, cyber, and space domains, McConville said.
Whitley said proper integration of the MDO concept would fully integrate the Army's capabilities with the other services, allies, and partners. The inclusion of Joint All-Domain Command and Control will also provide combatant commanders with multiple options for joint-expeditionary logistics and maneuver across all domains.
"Conflict in the Indo-Pacific or Europe will be in and across all domains with ground forces to secure terrain, penetrate [anti-access/area denial] defenses, and achieve objectives," Whitley said.
"If the Army does not modernize, we will lose overmatch with near-peer adversaries, making conflict more likely ... and consequences more severe," Whitley added.
Change to Army culture
While the Army continues its most significant transformation in the past 40 years, the force must also contend with the threat created by harmful behaviors like sexual harassment/assault, racism, extremism, and death by suicide, both leaders said.
"Our responsibility is to ensure every Soldier has the right leadership policies and resources to thrive and [become] trained, disciplined and fit cohesive teams," Whitley said. "That responsibility also extends to an inherent right to safety, and our ability to effectively mitigate crimes and relentlessly prosecute criminals to ensure we can maintain our focus on placing 'people first.'"
In December, the Army stood up the People First Task Force to address the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee's findings and recommendations, the testimony read. The findings were not considered exclusive to one installation.
In response, the Army started an independent climate assessment team pilot, made up of subject-matter experts, to identify unit climate trends and respond before a systematic problem occurs, the testimony read. Further, Army leaders conducted close to 100 listening sessions and organized a "people first solarium" conference to generate a list of solutions.
The "This is My Squad" initiative remains a foundational principle targeting the Army's culture through cohesion, compassion, and intervention. Moreover, Project inclusion has become the service's lead effort to improve diversity, equality, and inclusion.
Moving forward, leaders will continue to refine the way it acquires, develops, employs, and retains top talent throughout the force.
"If we have harmful behaviors ... parents aren't going to send their sons and daughters to the Army," McConville said. "[These behaviors] taint the heroism of all those Soldiers who serve honorably -- we can't have that."