Why network modernization must remain funded

As wars wind down, policymakers historically look to reduce military spending. Those responsible for cutting the budget, both in the Army and Congress, typically have three spending accounts to trim: personnel, modernization, and operations and training. What is critical, yet never seems to be done, is that all three are reduced proportionally.

As a result, in the aftermath of most major wars, modernization is among the first places that budget cutters look for savings. The risk, of course, is that excessive reductions in modernization leave the Army unprepared for the next war.

I have been a strong advocate for a balanced approach to budget cutting – thoughtfully dialing back spending on personnel, modernization, and operations/training to the same degree, which ensures that the Army has the right balance of people, training and modern equipment.

Given the changing nature of war, partly fueled by the rapid development of new technologies, modernization remains critical for the Army. I firmly believe that even in a period of decreasing budgets, the network remains one of the Army’s most important modernization initiatives.

The Army is collecting more data and intelligence than ever before. In the age of large linear wars, data was sent to commanders at the corps level and above, where most of the game-changing decisions were made. In today’s non-linear fights, critical decisions are being made at the brigade level and below. Commanders, from the squad level on up, need to respond to 25 to 100 people gathering in a village, not 25 to 100 tanks massing along the Forward Edge of the Battle Area. To improve decision-making and reaction times, data and full-motion video needs to be pushed out to leaders of small units, who then make decisions so they can react inside the enemy’s decision cycle. In today’s and tomorrow’s wars, the network enables tactical flexibility, which spawns strategic advantage based on the actions of small-unit leaders.

It is not just tactical and operational data that needs to be captured. For example, field medics need to be able to quickly capture, send and archive all relevant medical data from injured soldiers. That data is critical to attending doctors in theater, throughout the medical evacuation process, during the soldier’s recovery, and in the months and years ahead, and -- for that matter -- during the entire lifetime of the soldier.

A major lesson learned during a decade of conflict is that technology is changing so fast, it is causing the network to constantly evolve, making its components poor candidates for long and ponderous Programs of Record (POR). When Operational Needs Statements are no longer needed, can Congress and the Pentagon find a way to fund these critical programs? If not, network components will be a convenient target for budget cutters. However, investments in modernization and the network are critical to our capability to fight both the wars of today and tomorrow.

Over the last three years, the Army developed more effective ways to test and deploy networked technologies. The Army’s Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) provide a realistic environment for testing new capabilities with real soldiers, in real equipment and in networked environments closely simulating what is found in theater. The NIE has been successful in speeding up evaluations of new capabilities, both inside and outside of PORs and, most importantly, taking the integration requirement off of the back of the deployed commander.

The increase in fielding new capabilities outside of PORs is significant because it reflects industry’s willingness to invest their own research and development dollars in new capabilities that meet stated Army requirements. If we are interested in saving money and modernizing the force during a period of decreasing budgets, it’s important that we continue investing in venues that enable industry to understand military needs and fill capability gaps with equipment that incorporates the latest technologies. For example, industry can innovate around commercial advances in devices and voice integration, and the military can ensure that devices meet the requirements and work with a common language across the network.

As the Army and policymakers make necessary funding decisions, they should resist the temptation to make excessive cuts to modernization accounts. They should look to moderate spending with a measured and balanced approach to turning back all three dials – personnel, modernization and operations/training. Today’s modernization investments will have a huge impact on preparing for future wars, thereby reducing what has been the historical certainty of being unprepared for the next big threat to our national security.

GEN Peter Chiarelli recently retired as the U.S. Army's 32nd Vice Chief of Staff. A long-time advocate for wounded warriors, he is now the CEO of One Mind for Research, a nonprofit which supports research to provide better diagnostics and treatments for TBI and PTS. As an expert in modernizing mission command systems, Chiarelli currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Adapx, maker of Capturx Data Capture solutions, and Harris, a global provider of international communications and information technologies.

 

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