Speech
Secretary of Defense Speech

Secretary of Defense Remarks at the 2020 Association of the U.S. Army Conference

Oct. 15, 2020
Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper

Thank you, General Ham, for that kind introduction.

It’s great to speak with all of you during this year’s annual meeting, and I want to thank the team at AUSA for the hard work that went into this conference.

Despite a global pandemic, you adapted and once again provide this important forum for leaders across the Defense Department, industry, government, and academia to openly and candidly discuss the future of the Army.

In 2018, I spoke to this conference about the renaissance we were driving within the Army, as we began to implement the National Defense Strategy.  To adapt and lead in this era of great power competition, the Army launched a wholesale transformation to dominate a 21st century high-end fight, whether on the plains of Europe or the littorals of the Indo-Pacific.  

Today, I’d like to highlight the Army’s progress to date, and lay out the many ways in which the renaissance has already become reality.

With each generation come new technologies that fundamentally alter the character of warfare. Throughout our history, the Army has often stood on the leading edge.

In the early 19th century, the Army’s Springfield Armory helped pioneer the mass production of small arms. In World War II, the Army’s M1 became the first semiautomatic rifle to enter widespread service. And, roughly a decade later, the Army deployed the first operational U.S. guided ballistic missile.

Today, emerging technologies are once again expanding the geometry of the battlefield and transforming how we think about, prepare, and plan for war.

Our near-peer rivals – China and Russia – seek to erode our longstanding advantages through cutting-edge military innovation, such as precision long-range fires, anti-access/area-denial systems, and other asymmetric capabilities designed to counter our strengths. Moreover, in space, Moscow and Beijing have weaponized a once peaceful domain through killer satellites, directed energy weapons, and more, in an effort to seize the ultimate high ground and chip away at our military edge.

Furthermore, our competitors and adversaries exploit cyberspace as a means to undermine our advantages without confronting our conventional strengths.

In the face of these threats, we must harness the next generation of technologies and stay ahead of the competition. Thanks to the Army’s efforts to ruthlessly redirect time, money, and manpower to our highest priorities, we are positioned to do just that, particularly along the Army’s six modernization priorities. 

At the top of that list is hypersonic weapons.

As our competitors develop long-range fires to inhibit our freedom of maneuver, we are increasing our investments in hypersonics over the next five years, so we can ramp up testing and deliver these capabilities to the warfighter as quickly as possible.

In March, the Army and Navy reached an important milestone by jointly executing the successful test of a hypersonic glide body. We aim to integrate this technology into an Army battery by 2023.

At the same time, the Army is investing in the Interim Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense platform to provide Soldiers with 360-degree protection from Unmanned Aircraft Systems and other low-altitude aerial threats. We can expect to see this system integrated into four battalions in Europe in 2023.  

Furthermore, to bolster our advantage in land-based competition, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle – the replacement for the Vietnam-era M113 – is rolling off the production line as we speak. This 21st century personnel carrier will play an integral and versatile role in the Armored Brigade Combat Team.

These, and other modernization efforts, are building combat-credible capabilities, allowing us to target anti-access/area-denial complexes and enable Joint maneuvers across all domains. None of this would be possible without our industry partners, who have persevered through a global pandemic to keep supply chains functioning and deliver these projects on time.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment and support to our Service members and their missions.

In addition to developing next-generation technologies, we are also modernizing the way we fight through enhanced readiness concepts, such as Dynamic Force Employment (DFE).

During Defender 2020, for example, the Army applied DFE to build rapid power projection through dispersed prepositioned equipment. This and other novel concepts will help us become more nimble, less predictable, and better capable of rapidly shifting to combat operations, when needed. 

In order to integrate these concepts with state-of-the-art technology, we must be able to exchange and synchronize information across systems, services, and platforms. And we must do so seamlessly across all domains.

At the crossroads of these efforts stands Army Futures Command and its Project Convergence. Only a few years ago, Futures Command was nothing more than a concept. Today, General Mike Murray and his team in Austin, Texas, are pioneering the development of emerging technologies for multi-domain operations.

Project Convergence is designed to increase the speed of platform integration in real time, and provide the best response to the right shooter by computing at the edge. The Command recently conducted a live-fire simulation with unmanned-to-unmanned teaming, and with drones and satellites relaying target coordinates to ground artillery and other AI-enabled weapon systems.

I understand plans are already underway for Project Convergence 2021, which intends to incorporate Joint Partners and even international allies to integrate additional air and ground weapons, including the F-35 and Precision Strike Missile.

The future of warfare is being shaped right now before our eyes, and the Army proudly stands at the forefront.

Project Convergence will play an integral role in the Department’s development of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), which will truly modernize how we fight, and enable the development of a Joint Warfighting Concept, and ultimately, Doctrine for the 21st century.

While these efforts are paramount to a future high-end fight, we know that our military’s strongest and most enduring advantage is America’s unmatched network of allies and partners.

In our priority theater – the Indo-Pacific – the Army is playing a leading role in our efforts to strengthen alliances and build partnerships. By rebalancing force posture throughout the region, the Army is increasing access, presence, and influence, while also bolstering deterrence. And by expanding training and exercises across the region as part of Pacific Pathways and Defender-Pacific, we are enhancing interoperability and strengthening lasting relationships in the region.

This year, for example, the Army is stationing a Company-sized Stryker Training Set in Thailand to support the Royal Thai Army as they build their own Stryker program. The Army also plans to expand the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, and increase Military School slots in support of their Stryker program. In addition, the Army stood up the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) in 2018 to further synchronize modernization efforts with joint assets and partners in the region.

Next year, it aims to add a second stand-alone MDTF in Europe, while we move forward with other initiatives to optimize force posture on the continent.

In July, I announced our plans to reposition our forces in Europe to meet the demands of great power competition. The Army will play a critical role in these deterrence efforts as Stryker units begin continuous rotations farther east on the continent. Furthermore, we also plan to rotate forward the lead element of the Army’s new V Corps into Poland, once the appropriate agreements are finalized. Through these and other actions, our Soldiers will be at the forefront as we continue to enhance deterrence of Russia, strengthen NATO, and reassure our allies in the region.  

All told, these efforts prepare us for a high-end fight that we hope we never have, but must be prepared to win. Maintaining our overmatch depends on the Army’s next-generation command and control, long range precision fires, integrated air defense, and operational maneuver at strategic distances.  And it hinges on ensuring the right capabilities are in the right formations, commanded and controlled at the right echelon, and forward positioned at the right points to support the Joint Force alongside key allies and partners.

I’m incredibly proud of the work the Army is doing on these fronts, as we implement the National Defense Strategy and sustain our superiority across all domains, now and into the future. Moreover, you’ve accomplished all this in spite of a pandemic.

In June, I visited Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to see firsthand how the Army is modifying basic training in the time of COVID. I was impressed by how our Soldiers continue to adapt and lead, no matter the challenge before them. And I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the newest members of our ranks, who remain undeterred in the face of a global health crisis. 

In closing, I want to thank your leadership, starting with Secretary McCarthy and General McConville, for their vision and foresight as they make the hard choices and take the risks needed to outpace our near-peer rivals.

And, I want to express my gratitude to the men and women of the Department of the Army for all you do to uphold our Constitution, defend our people, and protect our way of life. Thanks to your selfless sacrifice, rooted in the Army’s core values, our military will remain the finest fighting force history has ever seen.

Thank you.