US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper: "In the face of these threats, we must harness the next generation of technologies and stay ahead of the competition." Credit: AFP.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pointed the tip of the spear directly at Russia and China during the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual conference, which was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Near peer rivals China and Russia seek to erode America’s longstanding advantages through cutting-edge military innovation, such as precision long range fires, anti-access aerial denial systems and other asymmetric capabilities designed to counter US strengths, said Esper. 

Moreover, in space, Moscow and Beijing have “weaponized a once peaceful domain” with killer satellites, direct energy weapons and more, in an effort to seize the ultimate high ground and chip away at United States’ military edge, he added.

“Furthermore, our competitors and adversaries exploit cyberspace, as a means to undermine our advantages without confronting our conventional strengths. 

“In the face of these threats, we must harness the next generation of technologies and stay ahead of the competition.” 

Emerging technologies are driving a renaissance in the army, Esper said, expanding the geometry of the battlefield and transforming how US forces prepare and plan for war in this era of great power competition, whether in Europe or the Indo-Pacific.

“Thanks to the army’s efforts to ruthlessly redirect time, money, and manpower to our highest priorities, we were positioned to do just that, particularly along the army’s six modernization priorities.

“At the top of that list is hypersonic weapons,” Esper stressed. “As our competitors developed long range fires to inhibit our freedom of maneuver, we are increasing our investments in hypersonics over the next five years, so we can ramp up testing and deliver these capabilities to the warfighter as quickly as possible.” 

In March the Army and Navy reached an important milestone by jointly executing the successful test of a hypersonic glide body, said Esper. The service hopes to integrate this technology into an army battery by 2023. 

“At the same time, the army is investing in the interim maneuver short range air defense platform to provide soldiers with 360-degree protection from unmanned aircraft systems and other low altitude aerial threats,” Esper said. “We can expect to see this system integrated into four battalions in Europe in 2023.”

The Army’s new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) is a key component within the ABCT formation, delivering command and control, troop transport, mortar, medical evacuation and medical treatment to the battlefield. Credit: Courtesy BAE Systems.

Esper also used the occasion to tout the new Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), which is replacing the Vietnam era M113.

The 21st century personnel carrier will play an integral and versatile role in the armored brigade combat team, enabling joint maneuvers across all domains, he said, crediting industry partners who have persevered through the global pandemic to keep supply chains functioning.

The Secretary of Defense also highlighted the importance of Project Convergence, an important “crossroads” for the US Army.

That latter aims to to bring together the weapons and capabilities the army envisions fighting with in the 2030s and beyond in a seamlessly networked environment.

Army Chief of Staff General James McConville, who also spoke this week at virtual AUSA, has called it “a major step forward in transforming the United States Army for the next 40 years.”

As such, it will play an integral role in the army’s development of joint, all-domain command and control, enabling the development of a joint war fighting concepts and ultimately doctrine for the 21st century.

“Only a few years ago, Army Futures Command was nothing more than a concept,” said Esper. “Today, General Mike Murray and his team at Austin, Texas are pioneering the development of emerging technologies for multi-domain operations. 

“Project Convergence is designed to increase the speed of platform integration in real time and provide the best response to the right shooter by computing at the edge. 

“The command recently conducted a live-fire simulation with unmanned teaming, with drones and satellites, relaying target coordinates to ground artillery and other AI enabled weapons systems,” Esper said.

“I understand plans are already underway for Project Convergence 2021, which intends to incorporate joint partners and even international allies to integrate additional air and ground weapons, including the F-35 (jet fighter) and precision strike missiles.

Hypersonic weapons are a big part of the US Army’s future arsenal. US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said they should be in place by 2023. Credit: Handout.

“The future of warfare is being shaped right now before our eyes, and the army probably stands at the forefront.”

In keeping with the Indo-Pacific tone of the speech, Esper lauded “America’s unmatched network of allies and partners” as a major advantage. 

By expanding training and exercises across the region, as part of Pacific Pathways and Defender Pacific — exercises that did not please Beijing — the US is enhancing interoperability and strengthening lasting relationships in the region, Esper said, calling it the “priority theater.” 

“This year, for example, the army is stationing a company size Stryker training set in Thailand to support the Royal Thai Army as they build their own Stryker program,” said Esper. 

The army also plans to expand the international military education and training program and increase military school slots in support of their Stryker program.

As for the European theater, Esper confirmed the army will move forward with other initiatives to optimize force posture on the continent, including repositioning forces, the rotation of Stryker unit rotations further east, and planning for the lead element of the army’s new V Corps in Poland.

All actions bound to rile Putin and the Russians.

“Through these and other actions, our soldiers will be at the forefront as we continue to enhance deterrence of Russia, strengthen NATO and reassure our allies in the region,” Esper said. 

“All told, these efforts prepare us for a high-end fight that we must hope we never have, but must be prepared to win. 

“Maintaining our overmatch depends on the army’s next generation command and control long range precision fires, integrated air defense and operational maneuver at strategic distances. 

“And it hinges on ensuring the right capabilities, are in the right formations demanded and controlled at the right echelon and forward position at the right points to support the joint force alongside key allies and partners.”