By JOE GOULD
WASHINGTON — Amid continuing uncertainty over future defense budgets and potential budget caps, the US Army’s force development chief says he has made one five-year spending plan for sequestration and one for a reprieve.
Maj. Gen. Robert Dyess said the uncertainty over the long-range fiscal forecast has not only hindered defense firms’ planning efforts, but required his office to craft two versions of the service’s program objective memorandum: “POM low” and “POM high.”
Unsurprisingly, Dyess prefers POM high. Speaking Thursday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on the future of soldier equipment, he called on the audience at the think tank to lobby against the budget cuts known as sequestration.
“I’d like to be able to say there is a steady stream of resources that are going to flow, or to tell industry what it looks like, but unfortunately I’m unable to do that,” Dyess said. “When Congress asks me what can we do for you, ‘Hey, you can take sequestration off the books.’ ”
While funding for soldier equipment is steady, with a slight increase in 2016 — under POM high — Dyess said he could protect funding for only science and technology research in POM low. Under that plan, 120 acquisitions programs across the Army are vulnerable, particularly the large ones, he said.
“I have to go after big programs if I have a big bill,” Dyess said. “Otherwise I have to go after a lot of small programs in order to pay the bill.”
A low POM also means equipping fewer brigades or soldiers each year, purchasing fewer items at higher unit costs.
For PEO Soldier, the soldier equipment acquisitions office, there are big questions looming. For one, the original fiscal 2015 budget called for the Army to fall to 420,000 soldiers by 2019, a significant cut from the 490,000 soldiers the Army is slated to field by the end of 2015.
“We have no idea how big the force is going to be, we are are coming into this fiscally constrained environment — we’re smack dab in the middle of it,” said Kathy Gerstein, director of systems integration for PEO Soldier.
To cope, the organization has compiled a package of common items first deployers need, a means of creating predictability for the industrial base. Otherwise, PEO Soldier has taken a more aggressive approach to integrating its systems and charting future development efforts, having program managers meet with each other and systems engineers on a regular basis.
“It became very obvious in one of our last portfolio reviews to [Army headquarters] staff that we were probably not all having that same vision, and we realized if we didn’t tell them how the soldier should be, someone was going to tell us,” Gerstein said.
Would more acquisition reform cut costs? Dyess doesn’t think so.
Despite the intent of past reform efforts to streamline the Army’s bureaucracy and eliminate “stovepipes,” Dyess said these “well-meaning” attempts have back-fired, piling more requirements on officials with each acquisition reform study.
“I think all of those reform studies have tried to do that but just added more onerous tasks,” he said.
Instead, he said, industry should be letting requirement-drafting officials know how to make tweaks to cut costs.
In February, the Army will conduct its 30-year Long-range Investment Requirements Analysis (LIRA), which levels stovepipes in a sense. For the past three years, LIRA has called sustainers, trainers, equippers, science and technology researchers and acquisitions officials together to plan.
“It’s been very helpful, pulling everyone together when we’re developing at what [POM] ’17-’21 is going to look like,” Dyess said.
There is little question that the Army will have to do more with less, answering complex scenarios, possibly on multiple continents at once. Asked about how the 1983 US-led invasion of Grenada — in which Dyess took part — compares with potential future operations, for instance, Dyess said the Cold War made the world somewhat simpler.
“Our Army had to be prepared to go [to] any complex environment on no notice, that’s the way it’s the same,” Dyess said. “We have to engage with kinetics to [interacting with] global townspeople, evacuating students as we did then. You couldn’t make that up.”