AUSA’s Ham Previews Annual Meeting

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General Carter Ham, U.S. Army (ret) President & CEO, Association of the United States Army, previews the upcoming annual meeting in an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. Ham highlighted the recently passed FY’19 budget, the development of Army’s vision and way ahead for modernization, as well as the stand-up of Army Future’s Command in Austin, TX, as driving forces for this year’s meeting. The Association of the United States Army’s 2018 Annual Meeting is the largest land power exposition and professional development forum in North America.

The 2018 meeting runs October 8-10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC, and provides military and industry with access to essential professional development, connection building, and the opportunity to touch and see a large concentration of machinery, tools and technologies up close on the show floor. Our coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit System of America, Leonardo DRS, Safran and L3.

Gen. Carter Ham, US Army Ret.

President and CEO

Association of the United States Army

AUSA Annual Meeting

2 October 2018

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here in Northern Virginia at the Headquarters of the Association of the United States Army which next week will be putting on the largest conference of the year, a leading gathering of Army leaders, to discuss the service’s future, strategy, budgets and technology.  One of the largest trade exhibitions also in the world.

We’re honored to have with us General Carter Ham who is the President of AUSA, former USAFRICOM Command Commander, and also one of the jointest people I know, because you started enlisted, a distinguished Army ROTC graduate, but also went to the Air War College and the Naval War College, so I think that gives you some pretty good bonafides, sir.

Gen. (Ret) Carter Ham:  Thanks very much, Vago.  It was a great opportunity, a great privilege to have served in uniform, and now to be here at the Association of the United States Army is very exciting.  As we head into our Annual Meeting next week, we really look forward to a great event.

Mr. Muradian:  It’s always a tremendous event.  I think this year will be my 26thAUSA so it’s a real honor.

Every year there is a theme and a topic and obviously a message that the Army leadership wants to transmit.  Talk to us a little bit about the message this year and how the conference is going to be supporting it.

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  Well, I can’t match your 26 years.  I’ve gone to several AUSA Annual Meetings, but not 26.

This year I think is a particularly exciting year for the annual meeting. Every year is exciting in its own right, but there’s enough change this year that I think the 2018 Annual Meeting will be very special.  And I’d cite, I think, three particular reasons.

One, the Army has money.  Yesterday, the beginning of a new fiscal year, for the first time in ten years the Congress has passed and the President signed into law a budget.  So the beginning of the fiscal year with a budget rather than the uncertainty of a continuing resolution is a big deal.  It’s a big deal to the Army, it’s a big deal to the industries that support the Army.

Secondly, the Army has put a lot of time and effort and intellectual energy of the senior leadership into crafting the Army’s vision for the way ahead and in establishing six top priorities for the modernizing of the United States Army. That clarity of purpose, that clarity of vision I think brings a level of coherence and consistency to this year’s Annual Meeting.

And third is the new standup of Army Futures Command in Austin, Texas.  A revision, if you will, of how the Army is structured and organized for modernizing its capabilities.

I think those three factors make this year a particularly interesting year for the Annual Meeting.

Mr. Muradian:  One of the other, and I’m drawing on your sort of joint knowledge and background, right? Multi-domain battle is one of the key elements. It’s almost the foundational principle of the U.S. military going into the future.  How do we get each of the services to be able to work more closely together in a more integrated fashion, given the kind of adversaries that we have?

As somebody who commanded jointly, whether in Odyssey Dawn or elsewhere, talk to us a little bit about what that means and how important bringing all the services together would be.  It would almost be the case that I’m surprised I don’t see more Army people at the Navy show and the Air Force show, and more Air Force and Navy people at the AUSA show.  It might be a way to go about sort of trying to bring everybody together.

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  I think we’ll start to see that.  As the multi-domain operations concept gains traction across the joint force and across the Department of Defense, I think we will see in the future a greater coordination, cooperation, and synchronizing, not only amongst the services where that already occurs but with the various industries and businesses that support the various services.

We will see at the Annual Meeting this year a roll-out from the Army of what they call Multi-Domain Operations 1.5, the next version of the concept under which the Army intends to operate.  It’s an important document.  It’s an important concept because it kind of guides the Army’s modernization effort for the next several years.  It starts to define the environment in which the Army anticipates it will operate as a part of the joint force, part of a multinational force, and it starts to define how the Army intends to operate in that very different environment.

Mr. Muradian:  As you look at the Army’s plan, or even the Air Force’s plan and the Navy, the criticism has been each of these services crafted these plans but unfortunately sort of missed the cycle, right?  There’s a sense now that 2020 is going to a flat to down year.  Right?  2019 was very strong, 2018 was very strong.  How does the Army, the Army community, AUSA work to continue telling that message because funding is going to go flat, or at least that’s the estimation in a couple of years, which would impact all of these — you know, even the best-laid plans, right, at the end of the day depend on Congress for money.  What do you think the fiscal picture is going to look like in another year or two?

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  Well certainly all of us who operate in the national security sphere, if you will, will encourage the Congress to somehow address the looming threat of sequestration. So encouraging the Congress to again find some way to work through that.  Another bipartisan budget agreement or something to avoid falling off this fiscal cliff in FY2020 which will happen absent congressional action.

I think you’re right though, Vago, to say that the Department of Defense recognizes that the appropriations for fiscal years ’18 and ’19 provided by the Congress and approved by the President, we’re not likely to see those kinds of increases.  I think you’re right.  Flat is probably about as good as we can, as the department can hope for.

That’s what’s driving this very, very sharp prioritization on the part of the Army’s senior leaders to say what are those absolutely key things, key capabilities that the Army must have to fulfill its national security objectives? And programs that don’t directly contribute to those highest priorities probably will see in some cases services or programs being eliminated, others that will be reduced in order to, again, very very precisely, very sharply, resource those highest priorities.

Mr. Muradian:  The Army leadership has talked about this.  Do you think the right move is to do, you know, certain Air Force leaders at the AFA show mentioned that as well, a block retirement of older systems in order to free resources for modernization?  I know that’s always a politically dicey thing.  It’s almost a third rail because folks have equipment and units in their states and towns and districts that, there’s a concern about losing those.

Do you think that’s a step that each of the services including the United States Army is going to have to take as it tries to get to a more modernized future in the face of a great power competition?

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  I think the most difficult challenge facing the Army’s senior leadership is how much do you invest in improving the current fleet of capabilities, whether it’s the tank or helicopters or long-range precision fires.  The Army has some great capabilities there.  How much do you invest in keeping those current capabilities ready and improving them to the degree that they can be improved, versus how much do you invest in developing the next generation, the leap-ahead technology? It’s a very, very troubling balance, and I think it is recognized by the Army in its theme for the upcoming Annual Meeting of Ready Today, More Lethal Tomorrow.  There’s a recognition that the nation expects the Army to be ready to respond today and to prevail in any conflict in which the nation calls upon the Army to serve.  But at the same time, they have to prepare for a future, which is a very different operating environment than what we have today.

I think you have hit upon the key issue that Army senior leadership in concert with Secretary Mattis and the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Congress will grapple with in the coming years.

Mr. Muradian:  And obviously readiness is another big piece.  Almost all the resources have been poured into addressing the readiness challenge that Chief Odierno used to talk about all the time.  General Odierno used to talk about when he was Chief.

Let me take you to the conference itself.  It’s going to be the biggest one since 2012.  I understand you’re absolutely bursting at the seams and everything is totally full.  What’s going to be different about this year’s conference?  Every one of the associations, especially AUSA, every year looks to figure out how do we do it better?  What are some new features?

Talk to us a little bit about what folks should expect when they arrive at AUSA next Monday morning.

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  I think they’ll see a couple of things that feel a little bit different.  There’s a larger international presence this year. We think we’ll have as many as 80 different countries represented.  Some of them represented by their Army Chief or their Sergeant Major of the Army, so very senior leaders.

Several nations have their own national floor space on the exhibit floor. That’s been an expansion of what has occurred in the past.  It’s a very interesting way I think for people to see the capabilities that our allies and partners bring to the fight.  That part I think will be very, very interesting as well.

We’ve got the Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Nielsen, coming to speak. There’s a growing partnership and a recognition of the partnership of the Army and Department of Homeland Security for a number of domestic missions, whether it’s border security or disaster response.  So there’s a synergy that occurs I think by having DHS largely represented and we’re extraordinarily pleased that Secretary Nielsen has chosen to come speak.

The Director of National Intelligence, Senator Dan Coats, will participate in a panel discussion as well.

And Mrs. Pence, the wife of the Vice President, will participate in a family program.  She is the mother of serving service members and has a keen interest in this as well.

So there will be a little bit of that difference.

Two other things I would say, Vago.  This is Secretary Esper’s first Annual Meeting as the Secretary so we’ll have an opportunity to hear directly from him on the very first day, the very first morning as he addresses the Army and the Association at the opening ceremony.

And my old friend, General Mark Milley is the 39thChief of Staff of the Army.  This will be his final Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting, and he’s used that platform in the previous three years to emphasize his priorities. And as you and many of your viewers and listeners will remember, he has really hammered home that theme of readiness and I suspect he will reinforce that this year.

Mr. Muradian:  I want to caveat, I think the reason I’ve been lucky enough to be at 26 AUSA’s, sir, is that I’ve been in Washington the whole time whereas you’ve gone all around the world in your 40-year career.  So it took you a little bit away from being able to come back to some of the meetings.

So each one of these, it’s going to be grueling.  I know that it’s been a grueling schedule here at AUSA.  We have to meet you early in the morning because your schedule is so brisk.

So what’s the key to surviving a big trade show?  Whether you’re a general officer, you’re heading it, or an attendee. What are some of your top tips for everybody who is going to be wearing their shoes out next week?

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  Well, first of all, do that.  Spend the time.  We have an app for your mobile device that has the exhibit floor laid out.  Use that app to say hey, I want to go see companies A, B, and C.  You can find out where they are.  It will give you a little map on how to get there.  So make good use of your time.

The Annual Meeting is at its core a professional development opportunity.  To hear from the Army’s senior leadership, to hear from, frankly, some provocative thoughts about how the Army ought to reshape itself.  So looking at that agenda, map out those events that you want to see.

But mostly I would say have fun.  This is, in addition to being a great professional development opportunity, in addition to being a wonderful exhibit of the products and services that our industry partners provide, it is the Army’s family reunion.  It is an opportunity to see friends and colleagues, meet new friends and colleagues, as you move forward.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do that, plenty of social engagements.  Tuesday evening Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will provide a free concert.  So yes, professional development to be sure. Yes, to see the defense industry partners.  But have some fun too, and celebrate this Army.

Mr. Muradian:  Sir, General Carter Ham, Retired, United States Army, President of the Association of the United States Army.  Sir, best of luck next week.  We’re looking forward to seeing you.  And it is, it’s a tremendous reunion every year.

Gen. (Ret) Ham:  Thanks, Vago. We’ll look forward to seeing you on the floor.

Mr. Muradian:  Thank you, sir.

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