AEI warns Army faces 'modernization abyss'

By Ethan Sterenfeld / March 23, 2021 at 2:29 PM

The Army's modernization efforts will require a sustained jump in procurement spending around the end of this decade, but this increase has yet to appear in official planning, according to a March 23 report from the American Enterprise Institute.

"The mid-2020s will see a significant uptick in Army procurement spending as research programs move into procurement, leading to a massive crunch in the late 2020s and early 2030s resulting from full-scale replacement of its ground vehicle and helicopter fleets," according to the report. Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at AEI, wrote the report.

By 2030, the Amy plans to begin or continue procurement of at least three new ground combat vehicles, two new helicopters and multiple new long-range precision fires capabilities, Eaglen wrote. That is in addition to upgrades on many legacy systems.

Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, has repeatedly said in recent weeks that the service must continue its modernization programs. Many of the systems the Army is replacing were first built during the Reagan administration or earlier.

The Army has planned for $96 billion in spending on modernization procurement from fiscal year 2026 to FY-31, Eaglen wrote. She wrote that this figure "truly mocks the Army's equipment needs," and that the actual spending will be far higher if the modernization plans succeed.

Much of the funding needed for these programs has yet to appear in official plans for the future budget, and it could be a challenge to get congressional approval, Eaglen wrote.

"Congress has previously shown support for the Army's acquisitions reckoning in its funding of Army modernization priorities," she wrote. "However, with the Navy's evermore ambitious shipbuilding plans, and potential cuts to Army end strength as the U.S. military focuses on its posture in the Pacific, long-term congressional support for the Army's modernization plans may prove capricious."

The service has improved its modernization strategy since a number of expensive and public failures in the early 2000s, particularly with the establishment of Army Futures Command in 2018, Eaglen wrote.