Col. Joe Bookard, director of the US Army Rapid Equipping Force, discusses his organization’s role in an era of great power competition during an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian during the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in Washington, DC. Our coverage was sponsored by Bell, a Textron company, Elbit Systems of America, L3 Technologies, Leonardo DRS and Safran.
Colonel Joe Bookard
Chief, Army Rapid Equipping Force
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 Meeting and Trade Show, the number one gathering of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to discuss the future of the force, its budgets, doctrine, strategy and training and technology and more. Our coverage here is sponsored by Bell, a Textron company; Elbit Systems of America; L3 Technologies; Leonardo DRS; and SAFRAN.
We’re over here at the Army Futures Command assembly area to talk to Colonel Joe Bookard who is the Chief of the Army Rapid Equipping Force, somebody who has a monumental task of fielding equipment very very quickly to forces around the world as they need it. 180-day charter that you have to deliver forces and capabilities. And I was going to say that you spent 15 years in the hard-shooting part of the Army, so you know exactly what the folks down-range want and need.
So talk to us a little bit about how your priorities are changing. The Rapid Equipping Force was born at the height of Iraq and Afghanistan to rapidly, frankly, circumvent the programs of record, get that capability to soldiers that leadership felt was not getting there as quickly as possible. You were the beneficiary of that when you were forward and operating.
But now we’re in a great power mode, so how does that great power competition element change how it is that you do your job, if at all. I think the fundamentals would still stay the same in a lot of ways.
Col. Joe Bookard: Nice meeting you again too, sir.
The fundamentals do remain the same. There will always be a warfighter deployed someplace in support of America’s interests. In addition to those warfighting interests, there are going to be priorities from the Chief of Staff of the Army about where he wants the organization to move forward.
So when we look at rapid capability or rapid equipping, the priorities will remain, but one thing what we’re developed to do, because we’ve learned in OEF and OIF is that the time to get the immediate material solutions in the hands of the warfighter who’s forward deployed will always remain.
So as we grow the Army in terms of the Army’s Futures Command which is focused on concept development, future force development. We’re at the opposite end in terms of the fielded force. So with America’s priorities and with the global presence, a soldier’s going to be in harm’s way at some point in time and he or she may need a piece of equipment and that’s where we come in.
Mr. Muradian: What are the most common requests? Generally, when a request comes in, what are forces asking you for? Or is the range as broad as a soldier’s needs would be?
Col. Bookard: The range is just as broad as the soldier’s needs would be, but there’s three areas that we really provide over my observation and historical records is mission command systems, force protection systems, and intelligence, or really the ISR components associated with a brigade combat team’s needs.
Mr. Muradian: You have a very ambitious charter, 180 days from a certified need to delivering the capability. At the same time we’ve seen a massive push to accelerate the classical Army acquisition system, right? The rapid equipping force was created to circumvent that system.
So how does your relationship with ASA(ALT) for example change as that organization works to become faster and more responsive? I mean is there a time when basically we don’t need the rapid equipping force if the classical acquisition pipelines are able to deliver capability more quickly?
Col. Bookard: If you think about acquisition in three tiers, the bottom tier being the deliberate acquisition process or the traditional process. Major programs of record, major developmental milestones. Then there’s a middle tier called middle tier acquisition where organizations like the Rapid Capabilities Office, you know, who are working on those two to five-year program requirements. But then there is the rapid acquisition community. The rapid acquisition community is broad. Whether or not it’s in the Army enterprise. We have rapid acquisition communities in each one of the services. But specifically for us, there is enough work because we have soldiers deployed forward. We’re a mixed command system. A radio or a piece of equipment to be able to see the electronic magnetic spectrum in terms of sensing attack still requires some type of research and development and testing before we can equip the warfighter with it.
So those three tiers of acquisition will always be there for larger-scale programs. What makes the rest unique is that we receive those requirements immediately from a soldier who’s deployed forward, or who’s in the process who has an immediate contingency operation and he’s preparing to deploy.
Mr. Muradian: How are you going to be interfacing? You’re a person who’s got enormous combat experience, but at the same time you’re somebody who is an acquisition officer and knows about the acquisition process and parts of it that work and parts of it that don’t work, and how to make it work for you, or how to make it work for the soldier.
Talk to us a little bit about how you’re going to work with the Futures Command, because one of the questions that’s come up over and over again, and we talked to Secretary Esper about this, and he said look, it’s a work in progress. We’ll get the details ironed out.
But one of the concerns is that some of the folks who are on the cross-functional teams are warriors of great experience who are going to help shape those requirements, but they’re not acquisition trained, so there’s that yin and yang challenge that you face always between great acquirers and great requirements writers.
Talk to us a little bit about how you’re going to be working with the Futures Command, how you work with the cross-functional teams, and what yet has to still get straightened out or ironed out in terms of details, but very important details, about how that organization successfully interfaces with a massive Army acquisition system that still fields some of the best equipment in the world.
Col. Bookard: Great question again, sir. I would start out to say I’m not an acquisition officer, but I’m a combat soldier. I’m a branch Field Artillery, but I have some acquisition experience from previous jobs at the OSD level. Acquisition, technology and logistics. So having a person who understands the needs of the guy on the ground and who’s able to communicate in acquisition in 5000 speak — you know, one of those authoritative documents, or especially for us, the Enclosure 13 in terms of rapid acquisition or prototyping. You know, we have the ability to communicate over a great space.
So I think there’s enough work to go around in concept development for a future force and the immediate need of the warfighter today.
So we still have operations in Afghanistan, still have soldiers forward deployed in multiple locations that are facing threats and we need to be able to provide some type of response or some type of answer to their request of support for those threats that they’re observing.
So in terms of the deliberate acquisition process, you know, the REF is not in the business of making or modifying F-35s or the Abrams battle tank, but the REF is in the business of ensuring that if there is a capability where there is a mortar base plate that’s dug into the ground and over time we know that as maneuver guys, how do you get that up quickly? Or even to grander scale things in terms of the Electronic Warfare Tactical Vehicle that we currently equip the III Corps with. That vehicle came from a requirement from Forces Command where they identified at the brigade combat team level and below, you know, we’re having some challenges in seeing the electronic magnetic spectrum. And how do we, you know, be able to provide a piece of equipment that’s mobile enough to stay with an armored brigade combat team’s formation and still provide the ability to sense and attack threat signals.
Mr. Muradian: What are — by the way, that’s an amazing capability. It was fielded in a very, very short among of time, and I know the Marine Corps has its version of it, a counter-drone system and an EW system that they fielded as well, again, on a very, very short order.
What are the keys from your standpoint to successfully achieving such a tight timeline? Right? What are some of the rules of thumb that allow you to do it? Because the United States Army is one of the most competitive organizations in the world. So if I’ve told you’ve got 180 days, you’re probably going to do it in 120 if not 60 days, right? You’re not going to figure like hey, I have 180 days, let’s sip a pina colada here after work before you get that delivered.
What are the key rules of thumb for you to take time out of the process and get the equipment to who needs it as quickly as possible?
Col. Bookard: So that 180 days is a REF internal goal. It’s not the Army’s goal. The Army’s given us in terms of rapid acquisition, rapid equipping, zero, really an initial need today up into two years to include equipping and sustaining that organization.
So inside our workforce we do our best to strive for, the requirements come in, let’s put the right energy in terms of industry, academia, if it’s governmental agencies, or if there’s a piece of kit that’s available today and the technology is relevant, how can we get that through if required, the testing phase into the hands of the warfighter immediately? So that 180 days is an internal goal from the REF and I’d say over 16 years we’ve been doing our best to stay committed to 180 days.
Mr. Muradian: Colonel Joe Bookard, Chief of the United States Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, helping soldiers every day around the world. Sir, thanks very much. It was a pleasure. Best of luck, and I look forward to visiting with you guys and seeing how you guys make the magic happen.
Col. Bookard: We’ll invite you out, sir. Thank you again.