February 19, 2020

Transcript from CNAS Fireside Chat with Ryan D. McCarthy and General James C. McConville

By Susanna V. Blume, Ryan D. McCarthy and General James C. McConville

On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, Ryan D. McCarthy, 24th Secretary of the Army, and General James C. McConville, 40th Chief of Staff of the Army, joined CNAS Defense Program Director Susanna V. Blume for a conversation about the U.S. Army's modernization efforts in a period of renewed great-power competition. The event was broadcast live on CSPAN. We are pleased to share the transcript of the presentations and panel discussion with you.

I. Opening Remarks

Susanna Blume: Welcome everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm here at my virtual fireside. Again, new and improved, expanded. We are graced with the presence of the 24th Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy and the 40th Chief of Staff of the Army, General James McConville. Thank you both so much for being here with us today.

Susanna Blume: The Secretary and the Chief and I are going to have a little chat about the defense strategy, about the Army's modernization priorities, about the President's budget request that just came out as well as the emerging Joint War Fighting Concept and we're going to save about 15 minutes at the end to take questions from the audience here. But first, I want to throw it over to the Secretary and the Chief to give a couple opening remarks and then we'll dive into our conversation. So with that, Secretary McCarthy.

Ryan McCarthy: Thank you, Susanna. This is the closest I'll get to Davos, Switzerland apparently. But no, it's a great opportunity to be here. Thank you. As we discussed in the green room, these are wonderful opportunities for us to try to talk about how we're trying to transform the Army. We're in year three of a very aggressive effort of transforming the Army and not only in how we train the force, how we modernize and ultimately, help our people reach their maximum potential.

Ryan McCarthy: So as I emphasized, the third year of a massive restructuring like we've not seen in over 40 years in the Army with creating an organization specifically to modernize the force, but staying against the fundamentals, readiness, modernization, and we use reform as a tool to finance our ambition and help us evolve.

Ryan McCarthy: So on the readiness standpoint, when you look back over three years ago, we had about two brigades of the highest levels of readiness. We're north of 25 today. Very proud of that. But one of the things that we've recognized is just with all of the changes and challenges we face in the world, the force projection is something you're going to see particular interest and focus with the leadership. So General Milley or McConville, Abe Abrams did a remarkable job getting us back to focus on getting tactical readiness in a great place. But now it's how do you take these units and project them very quickly worldwide.

Ryan McCarthy: We did that on New Year's Eve remarkably well. 82nd Airborne Division on a cold start, moved a brigade combat team and within hours had that first battalion on the ground. Literally took people out of New Year's Eve parties, a cold start. But at scale, moving heavy formations within days to get them on the ground with partners in Europe and East Asia is something we're really focused on.

Ryan McCarthy: So we made some investments in the ’21 budget and we'll continue to do that as we march across the FYDP so that we can improve that span time of getting boots on the ground quickly.

Ryan McCarthy: The modernization effort, a massive restructuring over two years ago to bring all those stakeholders together under one roof, reducing the span time in decision making, but also bringing clarity in decisions, forging better relationships between the requirements community, acquisition, tasks, sustainment. So very proud of that. Very excited. A lot of prototypes because we've moved 80% of the funding against those six modernization priorities. That was about a little over two years ago.

Ryan McCarthy: And between our night court efforts, which were the basically zero-base budgeting reviews, we've gone through our second evolution. We've got north of $45 billion across the FYDP that we moved against these priorities. A lot of energy. You'll see about half of the procurement dollars against new capabilities by the middle of this FYDP. So a huge change within our enterprise, but that brings nothing but tough choices in ‘22 and ‘23. So if these prototypes are successful, that's where the choices would be made to bringing in LRIP tranches into the formation and to start to scale. So a big challenge is in front of us.

Ryan McCarthy: We emphasize the word reform repeatedly. That helps us evolve as an institution. It helps us do a better job at managing every dollar we have. And the Chief says this all the time, "Dollars are like bullets" and he just pounds the commanders. About three or four years ago, we'd have obligations upwards of $4 billion a year that would just go back to the Treasury. We're less than a billion today. We continue to get better there, but that's just been leadership. Him sitting in the conference room just pounding people on the screen and guess what? It's amazing how it works, right?

Ryan McCarthy: So we've improved dramatically from that standpoint. Changing the operating model and doing a lot of things differently and that means we have to get out more and communicate and emphasize the things we're trying to do.

Ryan McCarthy: I think the Chief would be great to talk more of the specifics with each of those initiatives.

GEN James McConville: I agree with the Secretary. We have to be ready now. We saw that on New Year's Eve and we are, but we also have to invest in the future. And when I look at the Army over the last hundred years or so, we've had major transformations of about every 40 years. 1940 going to World War II, we transformed the Army for World War II. In 1980 when a lot of us came into the Army, we had a major transformation on how we did business and now we find ourselves in 2020 and we have to transform the Army.

GEN James McConville: And really that's what we're going to do. And we're moving from an industrial age into the information age. And so we have to do things differently. And when we talk about transformational change, we're looking for incremental improvements. We're looking for transformational changes. And if you take a look at what we're doing when it comes to modernization, that's exactly what we're getting after.

GEN James McConville: And just one aside, when we talk about modernization, we're just not talking about new equipment. We're talking about a new way we're going to fight. We're talking about new organizations; we're talking about certainly monetization priorities. We're also talking about how we manage people in the 21st century. So we're excited about what's going in the Army and look forward to your questions.

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