Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, Program Executive Officer Ground Combat Vehicles, discusses priorities across portfolio of systems during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the 2018 AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Our AUSA coverage is brought to you by Bell, a Textron Company, Elbit System of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS, and Safran.
Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings, USA
Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Vehicles, US Army
AUSA Annual Meeting
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Conference and Trade Show here in Washington, DC, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to talk about the service’s strategy, budgets, doctrine, technology and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN. And we’re here at the General Dynamics stand to talk to Major General Brian Cummings who is the Program Executive Officer for the United States Army’s Ground Combat Vehicles. Sir, congratulations on the stars, and it’s terrific seeing you again.
Maj. Gen. Brian Cummings: It’s great seeing you too again, especially here at AUSA this winter. It’s nice to be here with you today.
Mr. Muradian: It’s really fantastic. It’s a very, very busy time. It’s a busy time always in your portfolio because you’re the heart of the Army’s combat ground systems.
Talk to us a little bit, you know, the Secretary and the Chief have made it clear that the Army’s job is to supp[ort the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy. So great power competition is on. But looking at your portfolio, you’ve been engaged in that. Your predecessor was rushing combat vehicles over to Europe and now you’re executing on that program to get vehicles out there to serve as a deterrent for potential Russian aggression.
Talk to us about the priorities on your portfolio, especially at a time when the United States Army is still engaged in combat operations, sadly in too many places, while at the same time preparing for the great power competition gig.
MG Cummings: The Army’s got a real good balanced approach to what it wants to do, from the big Army perspective strategy, from the Secretary and the Chief down to all the Army to include cross-functional team leads and Program Executive Officers, that are actually modernizing the current fleet that we have and enabling them with current technologies we can go out and get, but at the same time working programs that are in the new strategy of the next generation of combat vehicles, long-range precision fires and the network and those other things that the Army wants to move towards.
Now as we move towards those long-term strategic objective things we want, we may cut some things in with the near-term fleet but continue to modernize the current fleet that we have. So it’s almost like a balanced approach to be ready to fight our nation’s wars today, but at the same time prepare for how warfare will change in the future. That’s what we’re doing across our current platforms that we have, and then also on the ones we want to build for the future.
Mr. Muradian: Talk to us where you might take risk. I talked to Dr. Will Roper who is the Air Force Acquisition Executive who faces the same problem. Large numbers of aging fleets. And one of the things that we discussed was hey look, we’re just going to have to maybe accelerate retirement of certain systems in order to free investment for that future capability.
Talk to us a little bit on your portfolio where you might be able to take some risk, where you might be able to draw down maybe a little more quickly to free up resources for the good work that Brigadier General Coffman is doing in terms of developing that next generation combat vehicle.
MG Cummings: Sure. For example, a couple of them, just like standing right here with the Stryker. The focus has been from the Army leadership to number one, get at that fleet aging you just talked about to be able to as those Strykers are aging, to be able to take them, put the double V hole in there for protection, and the mobility aspects of the Stryker on the battlefield to be able to fight in whatever theater they go in. And at the same time what the Army’s doing is doing a lot of exercises and a lot of what if’s on what’s the lethality package for what the Stryker will be for an Army decision coming up in about the next three month’s time frame.
So that’s just one example of one platform. Of all the platforms that we currently have, looking at each one of those pieces of equipment to modernize them to what we need to be able to fight a war between now and like 2028. And between all that time, start developing those future things that we want to get to.
Mr. Muradian: Do you see doing any block retirements of older systems instead of investing in upgrades for them at some point? And how would you make that decision?
MG Cummings: A good example of that is the Army’s taking a look at the AMPV just went through a limited user test. We have the 113, that 113 that me and you have talked about in the past, have been in our formation for a long time. We’ve got a lot of feedback that good from soldiers about things they’re saying about that platform, and being able to put that AMPV replacement on the current battlefield as we start taking, removing the 113’s. So that’s just one of several examples of being able to kind of do modernization in stride as we go forward and still get those capabilities in the future ones as well.
Mr. Muradian: One of the great focuses, it was in the last administration but also I think accelerated I think in this administration is to accelerate acquisition time lines. Secretary Esper has made that message clear, as has the Chief, as has the Under, as has the Vice.
Talk to us a little bit about how that translates to your level as a Program Executive Officer. What are some of the things you’re doing to accelerate your programs to strip away as the Secretary has, you know, let’s junk the unnecessary burdensome requirements and focus on sort of what the key mission is to execute more quickly.
MG Cummings: I’ll give you an example of just between the last time we were here at AUSA to the time that we’re here now. We’re announcing all the acquisition reforms we want to be able to do. Great examples of where the Army’s been working these cross-functional teams that are up under the Army’s Futures Command where we’re collocated, working on stuff with one another.
So Congress gave us these 804 authorities to be able to look at prototyping and getting programs to move faster. But what’s really also happened is a cultural shift. Having, for example, up in Warren, Michigan, having my cross-functional team leader with me at Warren, Michigan working on the requirements side, working on what the Army wants to be able to get, and then the acquisition work force working alongside with one another, and we’re doing that together as we move forward.
So all that normal time line of trying to develop what is the Army looking for has been truncated down to where the Army takes a risk on what it wants and we can build things faster and get quicker decisions.
So I can tell you right now it’s working real well. We’re getting these groups of folks all working together at the same location to get things faster. So the cross-functional team on those Army priorities is working very well.
Mr. Muradian: How do you respond to folks who say look, the Futures Command and the cross-functional teams are actually complicating the acquisition picture. That’s something I’ve heard from industry folks here. Wait a minute, we don’t fully understand it. Is it a requirements role, is it an acquisition role? What about Dr. Jette and Chris Ostrowski’s organization? Talk to us about how all of this fits. I’m sure that folks are even asking you, hey, from the standpoint of industry, who are we interacting with and how are we interacting? What do you tell them about the role of the new command, the cross-functional teams, and the sort of classical acquisition structure?
MG Cummings: So what they’ll get different from this time, which is much better. I can see where there’s some confusion that comes out there because it’s something new. And do I talk to a CFT lead, an acquisition person? Do I talk to a [TARDC] person? The answer is yes, you have to talk to all of them.
But what we’ve been doing, using Next Gen as an example, is we’ve been having repeated industry days. I mean so much so they probably may even be positively critical of that. Hey, they keep dragging us in. But we’re gathering every piece of data that they’re giving us, and as a community we’re sitting in the, after talking to them, and working through the strategies of things that we think we may be able to do and what risk associated with it.
So while they may go and hey look, it seems like they’re being unclear because they keep asking questions. In reality, we’re making sure we get clarity before we actually start something the right way. Because the worst thing you can do is start wrong. When you usually start wrong, you end wrong. If you start right, you end right. So that’s an example of where it may be perceived at hey they just keep coming back, coming back, I don’t get it. But we’re just going to make sure, for example, with Next Gen, we actually get the solicitation that we put out there, the community’s looked at it and we’ve heard from industry. So I think it’s just new. I think that’s probably why we’re getting that.
Mr. Muradian: When it comes to new, obviously all the attention is on the Next Generation Combat Vehicle. The United States has partnered with its allies in developing vehicles, although some of them have not been as successful. I remember the MBT-70 program. It didn’t work for either West Germany or the United States Army. But it did lead to two of arguably the best tanks in history, the M1 tank and the Leopard.
Now our European allies are looking at whole new generation of combat vehicles, a whole new generation of tanks. Do you see, as a person who’s got his fingers on the global technological pulse, do you see an opportunity to collaborate with our allies on sort of heavy vehicles like this? Given that some of the DNA in this vehicle, for example, is very much international.
MG Cummings: Of course. We are actually looking at all options. There hasn’t been one that we’ve actually turned away or not looked at, and anything that folks are working on from the foreign friendly allies that we have are part of the solution sets where things that we’re going to look at as a potential way ahead that we may use. So there’s nothing that we’ve taken off limits.
You don’t know, too, we like to focus a lot on the box or the platform itself. There may be other things that are actually more critical that we want and need that we can’t quite see right now. They may not all come from the United States, but you just never know. We wouldn’t want to miss that opportunity.
Mr. Muradian: Where do you see, the Russians have been very effective at using very, very large unmanned vehicles on the battlefield. They’ve tested them in Syria. We’ve talked to some analysts about that. And historically for the U.S. Army when we talk about unmanned there’s a tendency of thinking about very, very small systems or on the supply and logistics trains, for example, you know, General Motors upstairs is, or I should say downstairs back there, demonstrating a leader/follower vehicle technology that they’ve got.
As you look at the combat systems of the future, where do you see automation for automated systems, especially on the heavy combat vehicle side?
MG Cummings: For example, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, the first tranche of systems that will come out will look at replacing the Bradley with what’s called the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle which will be the vehicle that replaces, that puts dismounted infantrymen in the back. And we’re looking at different numbers that we may put in the back of that.
The other part of that program, another phase has got the Robotic Combat Vehicle and all the other enabling technologies we want to bring into that vehicle.
So the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, the Robotic Combat Vehicle. And then we’re going to have what’s called cross-functional team conversations about where the network for all those systems applies, and also using all those other enablers that are going to be out there in the commercial world, and what we may want in the military, and tie that into our platforms as we fight in different ways in the future.
On Wednesday you’ll have General Wesley will get up talking about the top level, how we’re going to fight the multi-domain battlefield of the future. All of our platforms and our systems in the network and all the other technologies will all come to bear in that domain and fight a certain way than we’ve ever fought before.
Mr. Muradian: During World War II we practiced MCOM operations all the time. The Army did. It prided itself on being able to move, execute and shoot. Very old fashioned. I mean everybody knew what commander’s intent were, everybody knew the time when folks were going to do stuff, so that in the event that COMs were interrupted, folks could still execute the mission. The AMP bursts and everything, taking out COM systems was also a concern.
Talk to us a little bit about, we have generations of officers as general officers whose experience was shaped by Iraq and Afghanistan where we had ubiquitous communication, we were in a relatively, you know, in some regimes of that uncontested. Obviously on the ground folks were very very contested. But talk to us a little bit about the mental architectures you’re bringing to bear to solve a part of the problem where you have a generation of folks who are just used to communications on demand, and how do you prepare the vehicles and the systems to operate with those communication systems thoroughly interrupted?
Mr. Muradian: So what you may probably see is that as we move to this new type of warfare from where we are, where we may be, you’ll probably see our new leaders and new soldiers will start fighting within vision intent of what their senior leaders may want them to do. So when all the technology may not be there or when it is there, you’ll have soldiers fighting in a different way because they’re reacting to the vision intent of what their leaders want to do. So we may have to work with soldiers and leaders on how to do things differently than they do them today so they can be ale to fight that way. It won’t always be about the platform or maybe the network’s not there. But our soldiers may learn to have to work within consent of what they’ve been told to do and envision what that mission is without being directly told [how] to do it.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about supportability. One of the challenges is when you have a multiplicity of vehicles and there’s little standardization in them, you begin to have a logistical nightmare at the end of the day. And in a great power competition, you could afford having multiple different MRAP vehicles, for example, in Afghanistan because you had uncontested supply trains. It was a pain in the butt, but you could do it. Whereas under fire, it becomes a different thing.
Talk to us a little bit about the philosophy and the thinking. And I know that it maybe applies less to existing vehicles than future ones, but how important is it to make sure that any vehicle that’s fielded has a very, very high degree of sustainability and commonality so that multiple vehicle systems are all common at the end of the day. Or as common as possible.
MG Cummings: Ideally it would be that way, and some of the things, we’re going to do two different things. One, with our AMC partners from General Perna down to the LCMC, like at TACOM with General Mitchell, are looking at ways that we can actually improve our supply chain and also have some common parts if some of the same systems are using the same types of screws and bolts so that we always have a lot of them on hand to keep our platforms working.
Other things we’re looking at, new technology. With 3D printing and other kinds of things, we can get some high-quality parts out, and putting those things out there as well to improve the supply chain on the battlefield, and even back stateside to get the overall readiness of our equipment up to, always keeping it up to speed.
Mr. Muradian: The White House just issued a Defense Industrial Assessment, you could say almost a National Industrial Assessment, to identify sort of key bottlenecks of technologies and manufacturers in the United States that would need to be supported. Sort of single points of failure in the system. I know the last administration studied it, but this has been a much, much more comprehensive, multi-agency effect that the White House reported out last week.
As a Program Executive Officer, what does that study mean for you, and what does that mean about what you’ll have to do differently in the future?
MG Cummings: We have actually looked at that. Of course in this portfolio I’ve got to really understand both the private industrial base and of course the public and the commercial sector of the industrial base. Lima, up in Ohio, where we build our tanks; and then when you look in York, Pennsylvania where we have numerous of our platforms that we work for BAE. So I’m connected to them and their ability to continue to support, the ability to produce combat vehicles, and to be able to maintain them. Then also across our industrial base and here in the government, like [water release] where we do cannon tubes and elsewhere, all those have to come into the factor of how we keep that up, give them the proper resourcing.
So two things. One, keep the current fleet going but at the same time be the national strategic where overall needed capability to surge, that has got to be there for us to be able to do that, to be successful.
Mr. Muradian: Where do you think is the ripest area for you to harvest savings? You have a lot of mature programs. They’re in a modernization cycle, so oftentimes it’s the most expensive phase of their lives that you’re involved in.
Where do you think are the best places to go to save money? What are the smartest things that you can do and where to take costs out of some of these programs?
MG Cummings: One of the things we’ve been doing over the last two years, actually, is a lot bigger focused effort on divestment. There are a lot of things that we have in either arms rooms in the Army or at depots and arsenals and stuff that we have in storage that cost money to keep them there. And there’s no real way of actually being able to bring those back, nor should we may even want to, and being able to look at some of those things that we don’t actually need at all that are being replaced or not used, and going ahead and divesting them out of our inventory.
That’s probably where we can get some of our greatest savings. We started that initiative about 24 months ago and it’s going pretty well.
Mr. Muradian: And talk to us about some of the things you’re divesting.
MG Cummings: Well, for example, if you have like an old generator that’s sitting out at Sierra Depot, and you’ve got, that’s very old and it’s a tactical [quad] generator, and you have new amps generators that are all being put throughout, through all of our units. Do you really need to keep all those old ones there when you have the capacity to keep the new ones and maintain the new ones? You don’t need to keep those anymore. You can get rid of them.
That’s just one of many numerous examples of stuff that we have that we can do that with.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you a last question. The budgetary outlook is rosy in ’19, or at least we hope, or that’s certainly the expectation, although we’re starting that budget process now. But the concern is that in ’20 and beyond it’s either going to flatten or may be down, although some people are hopeful that it will be up. But the consensus is flattened down, and even Secretary Esper in his vision notes that, that the funding picture is going to get more and more challenging.
You’re running some of the more complex, large programs in the United States Army. Talk to us how you’re preparing for an uncertain budgetary future to ensure that the impact on your programs is mitigated.
MG Cummings: In the acquisition business we’ve always worked in times of uncertainty as being kind of the modus operandi for what we always do. Probably the most important thing we do early on, though, is make good solid smart investments now. Be solid about what things we want to continue to modernize, and then the things we want to be able to put the investments in the future systems that we want and do it smartly.
So we do see tough times in the next couple of years or three years or four years, where if it’s in the 20-year budget we made those decisions smartly, and then we’ll do like we always do, we’ll adjust our priorities and make sure that the investments we did is sound, and know where we’re going to adjust those priorities when it’s not so good.
Mr. Muradian: Major General Brian Cummings, the United States Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Vehicles. Sir, it was an absolute pleasure talking to you, and hopefully we can come up to Michigan and see you guys up there at sunny Warren.
MG Cummings: February/March time frame. Good to visit.
Mr. Muradian: Hey, I like snow so I’m perfectly happy coming out there, especially if I can get a vehicle out on the track.
MG Cummings: Oh, that part’s easy. We can do that.
Mr. Muradian: Thank you, sir.
MG Cummings: Thank you, sir.
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