Army weapons, training likely to be hit hardest by more spending cuts

The Army’s weapons program and training accounts will likely be hit hardest by annual budget cuts that will total around $13 billion for a decade, a top general said Tuesday.

The Defense Department is entering the closing stages of its 2013 budget build, the first spending plan that will include cuts to enforce the $350 billion in Pentagon cuts set in motion by the August debt deal.

“We can expect cuts of about $12 [billion] to $14 billion a year for the Army,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, deputy Army chief of staff.

With the ground service still heavily involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, “you can’t draw down people fast enough to offset those cuts,” Lennox said during a conference in Washington.

That means “the biggest part” of the cut to the Army’s annual budget will have to come from acquisition programs and some training activities, Lennox said.

Acting Army acquisition czar Heidi Shyu predicted the coming defense budget downturn — after a steady and dramatic post-9/11 spending binge — would be “more challenging than ever before.”

The Army, like its sister services, is searching for ways to enforce its portion of the cuts without blunting its fighting power.

But just which weapon programs will meet the budget ax remains a mystery.

For instance, 24 hours earlier at the conference, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told reporters the service is working with the Marine Corps to save a joint vehicle program that Senate appropriators want to kill.

The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee is concerned about the lack of ironclad performance standards and cost increases for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program.

But even with projected costs of more than $20 billion amid shrinking Defense budgets, Odierno wants to save the JLTV program.

Despite problems with that and a list of other acquisition programs over the last decade, Lt. Gen. William Phillips, director of the Army Acquisition Corps, declared, “Army acquisition is not broken.” He acknowledged the service has bungled some acquisition programs, but said things like blast-resistant vehicles bought for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are success stories.

But tens of thousands of those heavy trucks were purchased outside of the Army’s traditional buying system, and Army officials remain mum on how — and if — they will be a part of the service’s fleet in large numbers after those wars end.

Still, the purchasing was done rapidly and effectively — by Pentagon standards — so the Army needs to examine how practices used for such “rapid acquisitions” might help officials improve its traditional buying system.

“We do rapid acquisition quite well,” Phillips said.

Congressional defense oversight panels have long hammered the Pentagon’s acquisition system. Congress even passed sweeping legislation in 2009 that forced changes to it.

Some lawmakers have echoed Phillips, saying the military services should examine whether parts of its rapid-acquisition system could be applied to its normal buying process.

Meantime, defense officials expect two traditional targets of spending downturns, military research and science programs, will be a target of the $350 billion in cuts.

Instead of doing science and technology “for the sake of science and technology,” as Shyu put it, the Army has decided to target its S&T work on “the things the Army is truly interested in.”

Another change the service is making in an attempt to cut costs is “not being so prescriptive” with the performance standards on which new weapons systems are based, said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center.

The military has been plagued over the last decade with “requirements creep,” which is Pentagon parlance for constantly adding new performance standards later and later in a platform’s development phase. The result is big cost spikes and lengthy schedule delays.

“We’re no longer boxing ourselves in on requirements,” Walker said. The idea is to leave designs “open” enough to install upgrades to new models as they go through an assembly line, he added.