WASHINGTON — The Army is considering adjustments to its fiscal year 2022 budget request, as senior leaders look to invest in the service’s ability to fight against infectious diseases or other chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the globe has spurred many internal discussions concerning the Army’s future operating budget, said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy Thursday during the NatSec 2020: Coronavirus and Beyond webinar.
“Over the course of most of our careers, we have seen swine flu, Zika and Ebola. In many cases, they were isolated in certain areas of the world,” McCarthy said. “Nothing has had the contagion and the proliferation like we have seen with COVID-19 since the Spanish flu of 1918.”
McCarthy was joined by other leaders during the online event to discuss lessons learned from the ongoing outbreak.
While McCarthy didn’t go into detail, the Army is looking into the “types of investments” necessary to support future operations during a CBRNE event. As the Army’s role in supporting the National Defense Strategy continues to remain the same, the impact of COVID-19 could justify the need for a larger Army end strength, he added.
Since March, the Army has been on the front lines of the pandemic with more than 50,000 Soldiers deployed around the country in response to it, McCarthy said. At the same time, more than 178,000 personnel have been deployed overseas, as the Army continued to deter near-peer threats while also maintaining combat operations throughout the Middle East.
“Too much is asked of this institution not to be able to push for more funding, so that they can continue to perform the way they do so well,” McCarthy said.
The Army has also played a vital role in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine under the purview of Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed. The team looks to have a vaccine out before Jan. 1.
“We are blessed to have some of the finest scientists in the world getting after the COVID-19 virus,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “The Army Medical Research and Development Command … [is] on the forefront, working with civilian and other government partners [to develop a] vaccine. They have also been involved in the clinical trials as they try to find a therapeutic medicine that can help treat those infected.”
Through the COVID-19 environment, Soldiers learned to adjust quickly, as leaders established new standard operating procedures to adhere to public health and social distancing protocols, McCarthy said.
“COVID-19 has impacted everything we do,” McConville said. “But we still have to protect the nation. We are continuing to train [and] bring in new Soldiers.”
The Army has also recently conducted a rotation at its Joint Readiness Training Center, the first at a combat training center since pausing all collective training in March.
“You have to respect COVID-19,” McConville added. “But we can’t telecommute to combat. We have to train and make sure our Soldiers are ready. Our Soldiers are doing a great job of operating in this environment.”
The Army continues to make remarkable progress toward its modernization priorities despite some minor setbacks brought on by the virus, McCarthy said.
“The defense industry has really stepped forward in getting the confidence behind their workforce to fight their way through the COVID pandemic,” McCarthy said. They have made “investment and management decisions to ensure that their employees take care of themselves.”
At the same time, both senior leaders are fighting to maintain the Army’s fiscal 2021 budget and beyond to fulfill its goal of fielding 31 signature modernization systems by 2030.
“The fiscal year 21 budget is about through the House Armed Services Committee,” McCarthy said. “Both the Senate and the House authorizers are concluding with our marks. The Army’s modernization effort, in particular, is faring very well“
The budget is slated to go to the House and Senate appropriations committees in July. Receiving an approved budget for both fiscal 21 and 22 will be absolutely critical to the Army’s way ahead, he noted.
“We have been very consistent with industry, and we have noticed an exponential uptick in investment in [research and development] by defense manufacturers that are pursuing products with the Army,” he said. “We know that if we can get four to five budgets in a row with tremendous consistency, the systems will start to land. They will have irreversible momentum to get us through these difficult times.”