• Ronald Pontius, deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Cyber Command and 2nd Army, speaks at the AFCEA Army Signal Conference.
     Ronald Pontius, deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Cyber Command and 2nd Army, speaks at the AFCEA Army Signal Conference.
  • At the AFCEA Army Signal Conference, panelists discuss the military budget and readiness.
     At the AFCEA Army Signal Conference, panelists discuss the military budget and readiness.

The Budget That Goes Up Can Come Down

The Cyber Edge
March 8, 2018
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

Army officials plan ahead for a return to sequestration in fiscal 2020.

U.S. military officials may be enjoying increased funding under the fiscal 2018 and 2019 budgets, but an Army general is warning that the 2020 budget could return to sequestration levels—and young soldiers on the battlefield will be the ones paying the price for a failure to plan ahead.

The topic came up on the final day of the AFCEA Army Signal Conference in Springfield, Virginia. Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, USA, director, program analysis and evaluation, Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, served on a panel on network modernization. When asked about the budget during the question-and-answer session, Gen. Ferrari launched into an impassioned speech about the need to plan for hard budgetary times.

“How long funding lasts depends upon the leadership of the executive branch and the legislative branch to get together and figure out how long they want it to last and how long the nation can afford to pay in the fiscal environment we’re in. I can’t tell you that in 2020 there will be another budget deal,” Gen. Ferrari said. “We’re like squirrels in winter gathering up chestnuts not knowing when the next storm’s coming.”

He added that the first thing he hears when talking to officials for pretty much any program is the phrase, “My assumption is I have funding forward.”

The general offered a strongly worded response. “That’s the only prediction that we make that is devoid of any sort of reality,” he said. The comment drew laughter from the room, but he continued: “The Department of Defense’s budget is a sine wave. It goes up. It goes down. We have no idea how high it goes. We have no idea when it comes down."

His tone grew more serious as he spoke. Every time the budget goes up or down, he said, military leaders are surprised. “The challenge is that none of us in this room who are surprised … are going to pay price for the failure to commit it to memory. The person who bears the risk is sitting in a high school somewhere, ninth grade, some young man or woman, that we’re going to send to some distant place. We have to get this right. We have to break this cycle,” Gen. Ferrari said.

He added that history should be the guide for future modernization. “Our track record is that we don’t know how to anticipate and build the systems that will withstand the downturn and that are ready to come back down. So this time we tried to study that history, and we’re trying to do things differently,” he stated.

Gen. Ferrari and other Army leaders said throughout the conference that the service is trying to get it right this time, in part through network modernization, which will allow warfighters to make decisions and act much faster.

Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, USA, Army chief information officer/G-6, emphasized the need to modernize effectively. “We have to figure out how not to have the same conversation three years from now because if we don’t get the modernization piece right, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.” To illustrate his point, he used the analogy of Lotto winners who end up broke again after five years. “Why are they broke again? Because they had bad habits. We’ve developed a lot of bad habits for a variety of reasons as an institution.”

One thing the service is doing differently is implementing an acquisition tool known as the IT box. It essentially delegates some decisions levels to avoid bottlenecks and get systems fielded faster. The Army is using it to acquire both offensive and defensive cyber weapons and suggested it should be applicable for a wide variety of other purchases.

Ronald Pontius, deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Cyber Command and 2nd Army, described the IT box as an information system’s initial capability document that identifies the capability gaps. “And then you work to do smaller requirements definition packages that you can move with greater agility and flexibility, define the requirements and then evolve the requirements as you move forward,” he explained.

The Army also has initiated a number of pilot projects aimed at modernization. Pontius updated the audience on a pilot project known as the Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) Support to Corps and Below (CSCB).

The pilot is helping the Army define every facet of cyber operations at the tactical level. Under the CSCB program, cyber experts have partnered with maneuver units to develop, test and make recommendations to Army leadership about everything from how units will be manned, trained and equipped for cyber, to perfecting tactics and techniques, to developing plans, policies and doctrine.

“As the Army has brought cyberspace operations out if its shadowy origins into the mainstream Army, one of the key questions was how to integrate this capability into the tactical force,” Pontius said. “This allows brigade combat teams to leverage CEMA and understand their unit’s footprint in the cyberspace domain and in the electromagnetic spectrum and to further deliver cyberspace effects and conduct electronic warfare in support of their operations.”

He added that lessons learned from the pilot already are being applied to real-world operations. “Lessons learned through our CSCB initiative have been invaluable and have already been put to direct use. Today, our cyber forces are supporting operational units in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Korea and Europe,” he added. “We’re equipping and training units with new tools, giving them a marked advantage over the adversary.”

When it comes to the Army’s network modernization efforts, the emphasis is on developing, acquiring and fielding equipment as rapidly as possible for a variety of reasons, including the budget. “If you want to sell something to the Army for the network, don’t go into a long-term development. I don’t know how much money we’re going to have or for how long,” Gen. Ferrari offered. 

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