By Lt. Col. Kyle A. McFarland
In a May 2018 interview with BreakingDefense.com, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper highlighted the need for the institutional Army to adopt matrix organization practices used frequently in the operational Army and in corporate America in order to adapt to a state of change he referred to as “permanent evolution.” Due to statute tracing to the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Program Executive Offices (PEOs) and subordinate organizations will not become organic to Army Futures Command (AFC). The PEOs, under the authority of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)) as the Army Acquisition Executive (AAE), have long had the mission to support Army modernization through materiel development and acquisition. However, the PEOs are not currently organized to support the rapid capability delivery that the Secretary and Chief of Staff envision. AFC’s success will depend heavily on successful integration of myriad specialties required to move a concept to a fielded capability. The Army’s Field Artillery (FA) branch provides a useful model of non-organic units integrating and synchronizing capabilities in support of a maneuver commander’s mission. The FA-to-Maneuver support relationship presents a functioning supporting-supported relationship with complementary, albeit separate, chains of command at subordinate levels. The model shows how the PEO community, as weapon system development experts, could serve as central coordinators for integrating various functions into CFT efforts similar to the FA’s doctrinal role as the coordinator of multiple specialized functions into maneuver operations. In order to best support Army modernization, the Army acquisition community should organize to replicate the FA support model within the PEO-to-AFC relationship.
In both the FA and PEO cases, the supporting organizations have functions that are more science than art. For the FA (or Fires Warfighting Function), delivering effects at a point in space and time from known weapon systems are problems with deterministic solution sets. While there may be multiple right answers to achieve desired effects, all the answers can be defined given appropriate battlefield situational awareness and knowledge of available weapon system capabilities. Similarly, PEOs can develop multiple courses of action to meet Warfighter requirements developed by CFTs. However that solution set will be constrained by the state of relevant technology, and the statutory and policy architecture including the Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, DOD 5000 series, and the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution system (PPBES). In contrast, the supported maneuver and CFT organizations tend more towards art than science for successful operations. Per Clausewitz’s ‘coup d’oeil’ concept, determining how a current unit will fight and win in the case of a maneuver commander, or how a future formation will fight and win in the case of a CFT director requires an innate understanding of the problem that is not readily condensed into a checklist. In both cases, effective support to the maneuver units and CFTs requires skilled professionals who are both expert in the science of their supporting career field, and fluent in the operational art of their supported organization.
Per ADP 3-09, fire support coordination is the planning and executing of fires so that targets are adequately covered by a suitable weapon or group of weapons. FA personnel attached to supported units provide the nucleus for effective fires planning and coordination for maneuver commanders including application of joint air support, electronic warfare, and naval gun fire. The fire support cells at various echelons, manned with technical experts, aid the supported commander by integrating and synchronizing the aforementioned capabilities across time and space. Maintaining the habitual relationship of FA Soldiers, skilled in both the ‘art’ of maneuver and the ‘science’ of the fires warfighting functions, with their supported units builds trust between the two elements. Fire support professionals deploy and fight with the same supported unit in training and in war. The common experiences developed through repeated training events and operational missions grows trust. This relationship leads to the shared understanding necessary for the synergistic effect of unified land operations. The permanent relationship of the fire support cell also facilitates a ready plug in for other assets that are not permanently attached, where the fire support technical experts help blend the science of control of these assets with the maneuver commander’s art of command in order to enable their dynamic integration into combined arms operations.
ASA(ALT)’s mission is to provide our Soldiers a decisive advantage in any mission by maintaining quality acquisition professionals to develop, acquire, field, and sustain the world’s best equipment through efficient leveraging of technologies and capabilities to meet current and future Army needs. The tasks of ‘develop, acquire, field, and sustain’ highlight that ASA(ALT) and its subordinate PEOs are already the primary integrators of various functions required to deliver capability to Soldiers. Like the fire support Soldiers integrate elements such as air power and electronic warfare, PEOs routinely apply their technical expertise blended with matrix engineers, contracting professionals, and logisticians from other organizations to meet user defined requirements. But while the PEO community has the knowledge and skills to support AFC in the same way that the FA supports maneuver, the PEOs are not organized to replicate that manner of support to AFC. To fully support the Army’s modernization goals, the PEO community must evolve and resource acquisition support professionals permanently across AFC and the CFTs.
AFC needs skilled acquisition support officers co-located, sharing experience, gaining understanding, and building trust between the PEO community and its customers. In addition to building trust, immersing acquisition support officers across the AFC organization will facilitate fluctuating matrix support from specialty areas that acquisition officers have relevant experience with, such as testing, contracting, and life cycle commands. This expertise can fill a capability gap within AFC as CFT directors and requirements personnel tend to come from operational commands where they have little to no exposure to the institutional organizations that support weapon system development and acquisition. Rather than expecting these leaders to rapidly learn the nuances and ‘science’ of the institutional Army, why not leverage experienced acquisition professionals to integrate those assets in support of AFC efforts?
The habitual attachment of acquisition support personnel to CFTs should not be construed as intending acquisition professionals to ‘go native.’ Rather the relationship matches Secretary Esper’s explanation to BreakingDefense.com where those attached will have two bosses. PEOs can maintain responsibility for the training, evaluation, and supervision of acquisition personnel attached to CFTs while they support the ‘operational’ mission of the CFT director. In this regard, the FA provides a relevant example of how this relationship can work, and what happens when the organization is not appropriately structured.
After a brief absence from the force structure, the Army resurrected the Division Artillery (DIVARTY) headquarters at echelons above brigade in 2014. These headquarters had existed through the mid-2000s, but were eliminated with modular BCTs. Simultaneously, the Army asked FA units to perform other missions. During this period, FA related skills atrophied across the Army, and fire support professional and leader development degraded. Without a skill specific higher headquarters to oversee the training of subordinate organizations on the ‘science’ of their profession and its blending with the operational ‘art’ of maneuver, the fires warfighting function lost the ability to effectively integrate and synchronize fires in support of unified land operations. The Army brought back the DIVARTY organization not only to provide planning, synchronization, and coordination of FA capabilities, but to also strengthen the technical or ‘scientific’ competence of FA units.
As the cautionary tale above illustrates, even if statute did not prevent making program management offices organic to CFTs, maintenance of a separate acquisition headquarters to ensure the training and development of acquisition professionals is prudent. Rather than competing with AFC for influence, the acquisition headquarters will participate in AFC decision making by ensuring proper application of the ‘sciences’ of weapon system development. PEOs already oversee the professional training and certification of their assigned personnel compliant with Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) requirements. However, they do not have organizational structure corollary to the DIVARTY provisioning of fire support cells embedded in the maneuver formations.
ASA(ALT) and the PEOs should resource the force structure and organizational design to meet AFC requirements by replicating the cross-function synergy of the FA-to-maneuver support relationship. PEO oversight of acquisition support cells within CFTs will ensure effective integration and synchronization of all materiel solution development resources including Science and Technology (S&T), sustainment, contracting, and programming/budget development. Much like FA Soldiers provide the nucleus for fires planning and integration of other capabilities, PEO supervised acquisition officers should be the core for integrating the myriad specialties critical to materiel development planning in support of CFT requirements.
Fire support officers in maneuver units must be able to translate a maneuver commander’s intent for fires into specific tasks able to be allocated across available assets including joint, air, missile defense, and electronic warfare capabilities. Similarly, an acquisition support officer within a CFT must be capable of translating CFT operational requirements in such a way to develop S&T objectives, program budgets and schedules, test & evaluation plans, etc. As a fire support officer rapidly adjusts allocation of assets based on changing battlefield conditions, the acquisition support officer will have to continuously evolve the support plan as situations evolve. Therefore, the Acquisition Corps must be selective in filling CFT support assignments. MAPL positions are better suited to these roles than civilian acquisition professionals given that all acquisition corps military officers spend their initial assignments within the operational Army. Ideally, the Acquisition Corps would assign officers to CFT positions aligned with their base branch (e.g., a maneuver officer to the NGCV CFT) in order to increase understanding. The officer must also have built sufficient technical expertise in acquisition prior to assignment with a CFT. First term acquisition officers would be a poor fit for this type of assignment, as they would be unlikely to gain the trust of the supported CFT through early demonstration of competence. The ideal candidate for the senior acquisition support officer to a CFT director would be a post-CSL lieutenant colonel who would report both to the CFT director and to the related PEO much like an FA battalion commander supports his assigned BCT commander. Further, the acquisition support officer needs to be empowered from both the PEO and CFT director to request resources from and synchronize efforts of other supporting organizations including RDECOM, the Life Cycle Management Commands, and Army Contracting Command.
While military acquisition officers are best suited for the permanent roles within the CFTs, there will also be developmental opportunities for our civilian acquisition professionals. DA civilians within the Army Acquisition Corps are the backbone of program management technical expertise. Military acquisition support officers will require additional support as concepts transition to programs of record. Temporary matrix of civilians from PEOs to CFTs to execute these milestones will reduce the risk of a program transition, while also providing the civilians a closer relationship with their supported organizations. The knowledge gained from that relationship will not only benefit the participating individuals, but the Acquisition Corps as a whole, as those civilians will be able to share their understanding of the customer with their home organizations.
Establishing Army Futures Command is the most significant institutional re-organization of the Army in decades. For acquisition professionals that aim to develop and deliver unmatched capabilities to Soldiers, PEOs should welcome this change as an opportunity to advance their core mission of delivering better capabilities faster. Optimism is not sufficient to achieve the vision of Futures Command. ASA(ALT) and the PEOs must organize to provide the support necessary for the success of the AFC concept. They would do well to emulate the Field Artillery construct to that end.
Lt. Col. Kyle McFarland is the S-3 of the 418th Contracting Support Brigade. His prior assignment was as Product Manager for Large Caliber Ammunition under PEO Ammunition (now the Joint PEO for Armaments and Ammunition). In that role, he was responsible for development, acquisition, fielding, and sustainment of the Army’s direct fire 105 mm and 120 mm ammunition portfolio.