Earlier this month, the U.S. Army announced that Austin, Texas, will be the location for its new Futures Command headquarters. The command, intended to be the spearhead of the Army’s modernization effort , will direct the research and development (R&D) of new military technologies and build partnerships with civilian innovators in academia and industry.
Author: Cole Stevens
Futures Command is poised for success. It has clear objectives, the authority of a four-star Army command, and an innovation-rich environment to work within Austin. Rarely does a team, in any field or at any level, find itself in such a favorable position and with the power to see its projects through to execution.
Despite these conditions, Futures Command has a daunting mission ahead of it, one that is not clear it will be able to achieve. The command is charged with nothing less than overhauling and modernizing the United States Army, one of the most cumbersome and bureaucratic organizations in the world.
Beyond that, America’s global competitors haven’t been sitting on their hands. China has modernized its force at an alarming rate, pouring billions into defense R&D and aggressively pursuing global leadership in technologies like artificial intelligence. In the past few years, Russia has charged ahead in advancing its missile technologies and has become an enthusiastic employer of autonomous weaponry. Staying ahead of these challenges, much less keeping pace with them, should not be taken for granted.
The immediate tests for Futures Command don’t lie overseas, however, but at home. Looming over the command is the Army’s recent legacy of massively expensive failures in other modernization efforts, most notably the 2009 cancellation of the Future Combat System (FCS) program. Investigations found that the program cost American taxpayers more than $20 billion and produced virtually nothing for the Army. That failure, among others, has shadowed the Army ever since and prompted experts to be skeptical that the new Futures Command will be anything different.
These concerns are valid and America should demand that Army leadership doesn’t repeat the failures of its predecessors. So far, the problems that plagued the FCS program (dilution of leadership across many programs, preference given to legacy defense contractors, shady political influences) seem to have been largely stripped away from Futures Command. If it holds itself to the clean, outward-looking standards set by Army Secretary Mark T. Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, Futures Command may well become the forward-thinking guide the Army so desperately needs.
However, no matter how diligently Futures Command works to put the failures of its predecessors behind it, the command will continue to be hamstrung by defense budget instability until Congress mends its fiscal malpractice. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of America’s elected leaders.
Congress hasn’t passed a final defense appropriations bill on time since 2009. Ever since the Department of Defense (DoD) has begun each fiscal year without knowing how much money it could spend that year. Susanna Blume and Lauren Fish report that, “Congress’s inability to pass budgets, let alone on time, has severely handicapped the department in fulfilling its mission—to ensure the safety of the nation and protect U.S. citizens and interests at home and abroad.”
Specifically, the past decade of budget instability has discouraged the very thing that the military needs more than ever: innovation. With no guarantee of program funding from year to year, the Army chooses to invest its cash back into legacy systems like the “Big Five” from the 1980s (Abrams, Bradley, Apache, Black Hawk and Patriot) instead of R&D for modern systems. This cycle kas kept the service on “warm idle” and dangerously behind the pace set by its competitors.
Going forward, Congressional leaders need look no further than the new home of Futures Command to see the value of Pentagon innovation well-funded. Since 2016, the DoD has invested strategically in Austin-based companies through its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental ( DIUx). Contracts issued through DIUx have benefited the DoD with AI programs that economize Air Force budgeting, software that saves the military 350,000 pounds of fuel per week, and systems that flag damaged Army vehicle parts before they break down. Futures Command intends to pursue similar partnerships with Austin-based organizations.
To its credit, Congress is taking steps to amend its deficiencies. On July 26, the House of Representatives approved the second version of its 2019 National Defense Authorization Act ( NDAA), keeping the bill on track to be passed and implemented before the beginning of the fiscal year. In the bill, Congress pledges to meet and exceed the Pentagon’s 2019 budget request, authorizing increases in key areas like microelectronics research, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. Additionally, leaders from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) have introduced a resolution recognizing that “failure to provide our military with full, stable, and on-time funding . . . severely harms our military’s ability to prepare for and defend against (enemy) capabilities.”
Although commendable, these actions are just a start. Until Congress straightens its never-ending fiscal rollercoaster and Army leadership demonstrates that it has learned from its past modernization failures, the success of Futures Command remains dubious. In the meantime, America’s challengers continue to march forward.
Cole Stevens is a researcher at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) where he examines the effects of emerging technologies on military modernization. He has worked for Austin-based microelectronics developers Silicon Laboratories and Applied Materials, Inc.
Israel Might Turn to US For Weapons as Syria Gets Russian S-300
Russia’s decision to deliver S-300 air defense systems to Syria will face Israel’s counteraction and might be used by the Jewish state as a pretext for receiving more advanced weapons from the United States, experts told Sputnik on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced measures on increasing security of Russian servicemen in response to the crash of Russian Il-20 military aircraft in Syria, which Russia believes Israel was responsible for. According to the minister, Russia would equip the Syrian air defense forces’ command posts with automatic control systems, which had been previously possessed only by Russia, jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communication systems of combat aviation attacking Syrian targets and, most importantly, supply S-300 air defense systems to Syria.
Announcing the deliveries of the Russian air defense systems, Shoigu indicated that Russia suspended the shipments of S-300 systems to Syria at Israel’s request in 2013, but stressed that since then the situation had changed and not through the fault of Russia.
Israel To Attempt To Stop Missile Systems
According to experts, Israel might attempt to pause the Russian missile systems since they threatened to become an obstacle to frequent airstrikes on targets in Syria.
“Of course, Israel will try to attack and pause the air defense positions, but will not be able to execute that since the Syrian army has already remedied not only this aspect, but also other fields and can stand up for itself properly,” Syrian political analyst Ali Ahmad told Sputnik.
Egyptian military expert Adel Suleiman agreed with Ahmad, saying that Israel might attempt to attack the air defense systems in the future.
“Israel quite well can attack these systems. He has been used to carrying out attacks on air defense systems in Lebanon, Syria over last 45 years, regardless of whether it was a military base or a radar system,” Suleiman said.
He also warned that Israel might try to talk Moscow out of handing over its missile systems to Syria, asking it to abandon or postpone the device.
“Israel as usual will try to persuade Russia to call off or postpone the deal, since this decision clearly is targeted against it. Israel will try to persuade Russia in the future it will much more careful in coordinating areas and targets of future operations,” Suleiman added.
Tarek Ahmad, a representative of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), in turn, doubted in his comments to Sputnik that the deal might be delayed, saying that Russia was firm in its intention and was not merely employing a negotiating tactic with Israel.
“Some say that Russia has threatened to deliver S-300 to Syria before, but never did, and this could be a negotiation tactic with Israel, but not this time. This time there is a date and the message is delivered by the Russian defense minister. It will be executed. Russia and Syria maintain already signed the deal on S-300 deliveries and it will be implemented,” Ahmad said.
Us To Join The Game
Since the deliveries of Russia’s air defense systems to Syria seem to be inevitable, experts in their comments to Sputnik said they believed that Israel might spend the issue as a pretext to quiz the United States for increased military supplies.
Hamdi Bakheet, a member of the Egyptian parliamentary committee for defense and national security, said he believed that Israel would try to de-escalate tensions triggered by the incident with the Russian aircraft through diplomatic channels.
“But at the same time [Israel] will try to spend the situation and receive more advanced weapons for its army from the United States,” Bakheet stated.
Ahmad supported this thesis saying that the unusual weapons might be used to pause the Russian missile systems.
“I am sure that the United States will seek to deliver even more advanced weapons to Israel… Israel will try to pause the unusual air defense systems,” Ahmad stated.
He argued that Israel had never been a sovereign country and always followed the US policies.
“Israel always encroaches on the sovereignty of all the region’s countries. And it acts in the interests of the West… in particular, impedes economic growth and development of other fields,” Ahmad stated.
Bakheet said he believed that Moscow’s step made a considerable contribution in the security situation in Syria and suggested that the Russian missile complex not only will be able to defend the territories where Russia servicemen are deployed, but the entire Syrian territory.
“Russia’s statement indicates that the Syrian government will receive one of the most advanced systems, which will cover the entire Syrian territory, extending beyond the Russian servicemen deployment areas. Any aviation, which will be classified by the Syrian military forces as an enemy, will become the target of such modern systems of air defense,” Bakheet indicated.
Hasan Oktay, the director of Turkey’s Kafkassam center for strategic studies, also pointed to Moscow decision implications for security in the region.
“Russia wants to deliver S-300 to [Syria] to enhance the defense of its military bases. That is why it will enhance security in the region in any case… From Turkey’s point of view, which recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity, it would be helpful. Since Turkey and Russia maintain reached principal agreements on Syria, the Russian side has the flying paths of the Turkish aircraft, and Russia will monitor the spend of air-defense systems, there is no threat to Turkish planes,” Oktay said.
Oktay stressed that the decision on S-300 was likely to cause serious concerns in Israel, which would try to act more prudently in the region.
An Armed Gazprom Could Be New Force in Syria
The Iraq War saw the use of commercial military forces – mercenaries – to an extensive degree unprecedented in the modern era. One of the military contracting firms, Blackwater (now Academi), saw four of its security contractors charged with killing 31 people at a Baghdad roadside shooting in 2007 (sentences which were overturned last year). That same year, 2007, there was a similar shift in the nexus between business and security in Russia when Moscow’s parliament voted to allow its energy giants Gazprom and Transneft to effectively create their own militaries, with weapons and technology supplied by the Kremlin.
A new sheriff
Many Russian energy giants are itching to return to Syria as the likelihood of stability increases. Assad has responded generously with an invitation to such firms promising lucrative incentives for companies willing to restore Syria’s energy infrastructure. The prolonged presence of Russian workers would easily justify military precautions by the Kremlin. Thanks to the 2007 law, such precautions can be taken by the companies themselves. Energy giants like Gazprom (who are rumored to have pushed for the legislation) will be armed and ready.
Gazprom is already described by some as a state-within-a-state, boasting control of one-fifth of global gas reserves. Should Russia deepen its activities in Syria through Gazprom, it will be exporting Gazprom’s corporate military to an already politically complex and fragile region. Perhaps this complication will erode Syria’s stability further.
Even if Assad regains complete control, a militarised resource company will no doubt create a situation similar to Ecuador, in which foreign oil firms dictate the political arrangements of their local environment, effectively usurping the state and that state’s military so that it is the oil and not the people who are protected.
The risk of multinational oil companies eroding the sovereignty of a weak state is a threat also faced by Iraq (where Gazprom also operates). In an effort to combat the risk of such political erosion, Iraq attempted to regulate the activities of military contractors by establishing the so-called Oil Police. The move effectively sent the message that Iraqi oil was for sale but not its sovereignty, meaning that contractors (and multinational companies) were banned from guarding oil and gas installations. The move has had limited effect. Since their inception, the Oil Police have struggled with defending infrastructure from attack, citing poor training and a lack of resources.
And oil is Iraq’s only commodity. Without the presence of international energy firms, Iraq’s already tumultuous economy would worsen in a country where almost 50% of its GDP relies on hydrocarbon sales. For Assad, Russia remains his strongest supporter and a key reason he has clung to his iron throne. When stability returns, Putin will demand his reward.
Gazprom may be a private company, but its ties to the Russian government make it the perfect instrument for political intervention in the energy arena. While Russia has been accused of using mercenaries in Syria, the next move is to export influential corporations that come with an integrated military (under state supervision). Russia is by no means withdrawing from Syria. As Gazprom adds even military-grade drones to its security assets, we must wait to see whether Assad is able to control the foreign oil and gas companies operating in his country, or whether it is these firms, with the oil and gas assets firmly under their control, who commands him.
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