Head of Army Futures Command Fields Tough Questions From Congress

Army Futures Command Commanding General, Gen. John M. Murray answer questions about AFC during a press conference held at the University of Texas System’s building in Austin, Texas, August 24, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Michael L. K. West)
Army Futures Command Commanding General, Gen. John M. Murray answer questions about AFC during a press conference held at the University of Texas System’s building in Austin, Texas, August 24, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Michael L. K. West)

Lawmakers met the new commander of Army Futures Command Thursday to ask him why the service needs the new four-star command, and if it would undermine the existing structure in which civilian leadership has authority over developing fielding weapons and equipment.

Just three weeks after the Army officially launched the new command’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, newly appointed commander Gen. John "Mike" Murray faced skepticism at a hearing before the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.

The command is designed to bring all of the Army's modernization efforts under one leader to streamline what has long been criticized as a lengthy bureaucratic acquisition process.

"I am not yet persuaded that a new command is the right answer to the Army's acquisition challenges," subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, said. "Relationships with the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, as well as those with the Army's Materiel Command and the Training and Doctrine Command, will be critical. Indeed, it's difficult to envision how all these changes will synchronize in a smooth fashion."

Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who testified along with Murray, told lawmakers that the Army needed to "put all modernization tasks that generate a warfighting capability under one roof."

"These tasks include warfighting concepts requirements, experimentation, fielding of materiel and non-materiel solutions," McCarthy said. "We are confident that Army Futures Command will address our past modernization shortcomings; this command will now drive accountability, provide agility and solution generation, and produce results, ultimately bridging the future and fielded force."

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, was also unconvinced that the Army had a need for the new command.

"Many of the functions that the Army Futures Command is expected to address are already being performed somewhere else on the Army staff, and I am concerned that the Army is standing up a four-star organization, with up to three lieutenant generals as deputies, without a clearly defined command relationship and an organizational plan," she said.

Bordallo added that "the law is clear that the acquisition chain of command runs from program managers through the civilian assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology," or ASA(ALT), and that she remained concerned that "over time, the civilian acquisition leadership will be eclipsed by the size and the weight of this new organization, run entirely by general officers."

Murray tried to reassure lawmakers that, as the ASA(ALT), Bruce Jette's role in the Army has not changed.

"He remains solely responsible to the secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology; he's the Army's chief scientist, he remains responsible for the acquisition corps -- the civilian and uniformed part of it -- and he is ultimately responsible for the delivery of a materiel solution, once a decision has been made to go down that route," Murray said.

Murray said he has oversight on the research and development of new equipment solutions before the Army decides to make them a program of record.

"If it's a problem prior to milestone decision authority or a materiel development decision ... I have the authority to fix that, because it's a requirements issue or it's a prototyping issue or it's an experimentation issue," Murray said. "If it's past the decision to build a piece of equipment to solve that problem, the responsibility really lies with Dr. Jette, so I have the obligation to work with him."

Murray told lawmakers that the Army had no choice but to change the way it approaches modernization.

"The world has changed since our current ground combat systems were designed and built in the 1970s and 1980s; the rapid pace of technological change, coupled with the speed of innovation we see in the world today, demands that the Army make changes in the way we develop and deliver concepts and capability for our soldiers," Murray said.

"I fully understand the weight of responsibility that now rests on my shoulders ... I am personally and professionally invested to ensure that future soldiers have the concepts and capabilities they need when and where they need them to fight and win on a future, high-lethal battlefield."

Lawmakers wanted to know why some modernization responsibilities were taken away from commands like Training and Doctrine Command and Army Materiel Command.

"What we believe, as the Army senior leadership team, is that it provides much greater clarity and focus for all of our major commands," McCarthy said. "So Training and Doctrine Command hones in on accessing individuals and preparing them to send to the operational force, [while] Forces Command [keeps a] laser focus on readiness … they look solely at the sustaining of the force."

Murray added that there was "a defined handoff" between Army Futures Command and TRADOC.

"What I am really delivering is concepts, organizational structure, and materiel solutions to be integrated by TRADOC," he said. "... The material solutions themselves ultimately get handed off to the acquisition community and ASA(ALT)."

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, said he understood the reason behind standing up Futures Command, but wanted to know what could be expected by 2020.

"If this subcommittee two years from now held a hearing on sort of the before-and-after standing up [Futures Command], what would be the metrics, in terms of what are we going to see happen in two years, that would really be a measuring stick so that we could see that real change is occurring," Courtney said.

Murray did not give specific details on equipment fieldings, but said soldiers would notice a difference.

"I can't do miracles; I am not going to deliver you a new tank, but what I do think you will see is some of the capabilities the cross-functional teams are working will be in production and being delivered and in the hands of soldiers in the next two years," Murray said.

"And I do think you will see a very deliberate effort to align, synchronize and orchestrate across the entire modernization effort, and I think you will see much shorter timelines to deliver capabilities to soldiers."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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