U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley stressed readiness as a top concern for the service during his speech at the Eisenhower Luncheon as part of the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. last week.

“So our No. 1 task, bar none, remains readiness. Readiness for what? Readiness for war. Readiness for the intense combat of ground operations of any type, anywhere in the world. That is our task. And I can tell you that it has never been more important than it is today,” Milley said.

Highlighting multiple areas around the world where the Army should be prepared to engage in ground conflict, Milley added that readiness not only increases the chance of victory, but also serves as a deterrence against any conflict at all.

“Un-readiness results in paying the butcher’s bill in the blood of American Soldiers,” Milley said. “But being combat-ready, on the other hand, deters enemies, it keeps the peace. And in the event of conflict, combat readiness provides the capability to end the war quickly, on our terms, in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of friendly casualties.

“As Soldiers, as America’s sentinels of freedom, we will pray for peace every day,” Milley said. “But at the same time, we will prepare for war.”

Army Chief’s Modernization Priorities

So what is the U.S. Army doing in terms of readiness? Well, Milley said modernization is the key. In fact, a few days before his speech, he discussed that very topic in a letter obtained by Defense One entitled “Modernization Priorities for the United States Army.”

“We are being challenged in every domain of warfare: land, maritime, air, cyber and space, and the challenges are growing in scale and complexity,” Milley writes. “Our recent focus on fighting wars of insurgency and terrorism allowed our adversaries to make improvements on their modernization efforts and erode our advantages enjoyed since World War II. Our Army must regain our overmatch and competitive advantage against emerging threats, competitors, and adversaries. We have worked hard in recent years to increase our readiness and strengthen our formations and now must modernize our capabilities to increase our lethality against emerging regional and global near-peer adversaries.

“This modernization strategy has one simple focus: make Soldiers and units more lethal. To be successful, we must turn ideas into actions through continuous experimenting and prototyping, improving acquisition business processes, pursuing appropriate commercial/off-the-shelf options, and improving training. Additionally, our modernized capabilities must have interoperability with allies built-in.”

To  that end, he laid out six priorities: long-range precision fires; a next-generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift platforms; a mobile and expeditionary Army network; air and missile defense capabilities; and soldier lethality. Here’s how they break down, via Milley’s letter:

1. A Long-Range Precision Fires capability that restores US Army dominance in range, munitions, and target acquisition.

2. A Next Generation Combat Vehicle – along with other close combat capabilities in manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned variants-with the most modem firepower, protection, mobility, and power generation capabilities, to ensure our combat formations can fight and win against any foe.

3. Future of Vertical Lift platforms – attack, lift, recon – in manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned variants that are survivable on the modem and future battlefield.

4. An Army Network with hardware, software, and infrastructure – sufficiently mobile and expeditionary – that can be used to fight cohesively in any environment where the electromagnetic spectrum is denied or degraded.

5. Air and Missile Defense capabilities that ensure our future combat formations are protected from modern and advanced. air and missile delivered fires, including drones.

6. Finally, soldier lethality that spans air fundamentals – shooting, moving, communicating, protecting and sustaining. We will field not only next generation individual and squad combat weapons, but also improved body armor, sensors, radios, and load-bearing exoskeletons.

During his speech at AUSA, Milley said the next-gen individual and squad combat weapon would be a “10x improvement over any existing current system in the world.” He also said an important part of soldier lethality would be extensive training.

Training Needs

“Training is the key,” Milley said. “Hard, rigorous, realistic, repetitive training. That is the ultimate form of taking care of an American Soldier. And the only way to do that is through repetition in combat-like conditions. Repetitive practice in the right conditions builds skills and intuition that each of our leaders will need to make thousands of decisions in actual combat.”

Milley added that live-fire exercises, in addition to combat training center exercises that use opposing forces, are best, but that kind of training costs serious cash and doesn’t offer the number of repetitions Milley is talking about.

The only way to get that kind of repetition is through “radically improving our synthetic training environment,” Milley believes.

He cited the Air Force, Navy and Army helicopter pilot and tank crews that get extensive simulator training before entering real combat vehicles.

“Tens of millions of dollars are spent and invested in teaming and simulation for an F-35 pilot before they are ever allowed to come near a fifth-generation fighter,” Milley said. “Well, we have fifth-generation fighters in our squads and platoons and they are actually fighting every day. So we must do the same thing for them.

“Any Soldier that engages in close-quarters combat deserves the same investment [as] anyone who is flying at 30,000 feet. There is no reason we do not do that.”

In fact, Milley says, the technology already exists.

“Every line company in the Army can have multiple simulators to train under varied combat conditions, so that units and Soldiers [can] practice warfighting skills literally every day,” Milley said. “The technology exists now in order to conduct realistic training in any terrain in all of the urban areas of the world, with any scenario, with any enemy. Anything the commander deems necessary, that is possible today.

“We just need, at our level, to focus our resources to provide [commanders] the opportunity,” Milley said.

Watch Milley’s full speech at the Eisenhower Luncheon at AUSA below.

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