From the outset, the Trump Administration has been committed both to rebuilding America’s military and revitalizing the industrial base that supports it. The White House understands that these two objectives are intimately related. Since the end of the Cold War, chronic under-funding resulted in a military that today is relatively unready, particularly for high-end conflict, and increasingly obsolescent. This same lack of funding for production and sustainment caused the aerospace and defense industry to consolidate and contract. It also forced many companies to make the painful decision to reduce their research and development (R&D).
During this same period, regional and near-peer competitors were investing in both traditional defense products and advanced technologies designed to achieve superiority vis-a-vis the U.S. military. Russia, for example, has been engaged in a decade-long, comprehensive program to modernize its conventional force structure. Now it poses a credible threat to NATO. According to the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Mark Milley, U.S. ground forces are out-ranged by Russian tanks and artillery: “It’s close. It’s not overly dramatic but it’s the combination of systems — we don’t like it, we don’t want it — but yes, we are technically outranged and outgunned.”
Much attention focuses on Russian and Chinese investments in next-generation platforms and weapons designed to give them decisive superiority over the U.S. and its allies. The new Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Michael Griffin, among many senior Pentagon officials, has emphasized the need for the U.S. defense establishment to meet this prospective danger by upping its game in such areas as hypersonics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, robotics and additive manufacturing.
The U.S. Army has created a series of cross-functional teams (CFTs) charged with regaining U.S. overmatch in such areas as long-range precision fires, soldier lethality, air and missile defense and next-generation combat vehicles. The CFTs are looking to achieve a 10x increase in combat capabilities by exploiting advances in R&D, many coming from the commercial economy. The Army also recently announced that it would locate its new Futures Command in Austin, Texas, now considered one of the nation’s premier centers for technology innovation, particularly in information technology and computing.