National Security in the Hands of Fifth Graders

LTGKeithWalkerWhat if our nation’s security was in the hands of fifth graders? An obvious exaggeration, but Lieutenant General Keith Walker made the point that the US Army is preparing its network to serve commanders in 2030, or today’s fifth grade boys and girls.

Walker, who is Deputy Commanding General as well as Director of the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis, VA, delivered his keynote address at AFCEA’s TechNet Augusta 2013 conference earlier this month.

He said as the US Army has restricted resources in a time of sequestration, the military as a whole is taking a hard look at the investments needed to effectively provide that class of fifth graders with the hardware they’ll need to protect us come 2030.

“We can take the risk that we’re still ahead of our adversaries. Right now that’s manageable,” Walker said. “If we’re not careful with our investment, our competitive advantage gets challenged in the future, so we have to look at where we are putting our research and development money.”

According to Walker, there’s only so much the US Army can continue to improve incrementally. “Honestly, that is all we can afford now. Future material capabilities solutions that we want look a lot like what we currently have. The tank still looks like the tank. You may have some really neat extra stuff in it, but it’s still basically an M1A2 tank.”

Walker said the Army has fewer research funds than other US military branches right now, because the government has been focused on providing support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This is characteristic of this period of innovation. Investing our money in the right place for the future in terms of adaptation, looking for the breakthrough.”

There’s also a time element involved, Walker continued. “Our future force capability requirements are broad statements, but they include quick deployments to global crisis areas. We’re going to have to deal with this, and nobody is going to give us six months to prepare. Look how fast the Arab Spring happened. The momentum of human interaction has increased. Time is now a factor for us, a huge factor.”

As the US Army struggles to keep up with battlefield technology while being restrained financially, Walker warns it’s not going to get any easier down the road. “In 2020, it’s not going to be any better. It’s the way we are. We are infantry brigade combat team, Stryker brigade combat team, and armored combat team. And in 2020, we will have infantry brigade combat teams, and Stryker brigade team combat teams, and armored brigade combat teams, and all the rest of the supporting structure that goes with it.”

While Walker sees no huge breakthroughs in battlefield technology, he does see steady movement towards innovation. “We’re evolving through engineering change proposals, ground combat vehicles, if we can afford it. Joint light tactical vehicles, if we can afford that. Armored multipurpose vehicles, if we can continue to afford that,” Walker continued. “But you see the point is we’re evolving.”

“If we continue to involve our forces the same in the future, infantry, Stryker, and armor, if you get some kind of breakthrough, you can change the nature of those forces,” he said. “One difference in future combat systems, we made a bet before technology delivered.”

Walker wants funding to search for that breakthrough that could transform the US military forces manned by today’s fifth graders. “We’re advocating some significant, basic research funding so if we get a breakthrough, it would be some truly transformational work done for that future force of 2030 and 2040.”

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