Leading general talks key investments to maintain 'iron fist'

Leadership development, ownership of assets and tech investments are key to maintaining the Army as the “iron fist of national defense,” TRADOC commander Gen. David G. Perkins, says.

Leadership development, ownership of assets and tech investments will be key to maintaining the Army as a strong “iron fist of national defense,” according to senior Army leadership.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday, Gen. David G. Perkins, the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), mused on the challenges facing the shrinking Army in the years ahead.

 “We are not a boutique force,” said Perkins. “We are not a niche capability.”

The president’s 2015 defense budget proposal calls for technology investments to accompany a dramatic reduction in the number of active-duty soldiers, and while Perkins acknowledged the importance of tech, he stressed the fact that the Army must retain a robust personnel base.

“We are the iron fist of our national defense,” said Perkins. “That’s what the Army is as an organization.”

As the leader at TRADOC, Perkins guides much of the Army’s training processes and develops operational doctrine – and he said that training will play a key role as the Army slims down.

“That’s really our hedge on the future, our training and leader development,” said Perkins.

Perkins was adamant that the Army’s number one resource is its soldiers – even as budget constraints will shrink the service to its smallest size since World War II.

Tech investments are important, Perkins said, while noting, “IT tools are enablers, but they’re not ends in and of themselves.”

When he makes organizational recommendations, Perkins said, he encounters positivity when he recognizes a critical need and pushes for increased investment in areas like UAVs and boosted cyber training – but nowadays, he’s often pushing in the other direction.

“What we’re not going to do, where we’re going to disinvest, that’s where you get more pushback,” Perkins said.

But with the pain of budget reductions comes an opportunity for streamlining and innovation, Perkins said.

Contractors need to be ready.

“Our old way of acquiring materiel is just not going to work,” Perkins said. To complement the Army’s “agile and adaptive leaders,” they’ll need “an agile and adaptive process” to acquire materiel.

On the training side, Perkins stressed the need for greater Army ownership over assets, venting his frustration that often under the current models, incredibly sophisticated training areas – which combine simulators and live field exercises – only exist for a day at a time.

“The generals leave, the contractors leave, and all that’s left is tapemarks,” Perkins lamented.

What’s needed is Army ownership of and experimentation with key training assets, Perkins said, citing stories of lowly E-5s playing with simulators and discovering hacks and workarounds to expand the simulators’ capabilities – likely to the chagrin of the contractor.

The old pay-per-play training model just won’t fit an Army that needs to be leaner and more efficient.

While much of the future for Army contractors will involve the tightening of belts, cyber and unmanned systems remain bright spots for growth.

“Unmanned systems are critical to our future,” Perkins said, noting that UAVs give the Army a broader range of tactical options by keeping soldiers out of harm’s way.

Perkins also touted the Army’s emphasis on training cyber warriors, saying cyber warfare will become increasingly important in years to come.

Cyber concerns, he said, “are definitely a growth industry, from a threat perspective.”