Aisle M – Modernization

Disclaimer: The inclusion of resources here is for informational, historical, and research purposes only and is provided as a service for US Army War College faculty, students, and graduates to support their educational and professional requirements. These may include outdated or superseded materials. The inclusion of these materials does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Modernization is an important consideration for National and DoD leaders to consider when allocating resources for the military services. Much like Force Structure and Readiness, it is not well defined or understood. This lesson is designed to help students understand the many aspects of Modernization and its relationship with Force Structure and Readiness.

When most people think of Modernization, they think of the development and procurement of brand new, high tech weapons; combat vehicles, fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft, aircraft carriers and supporting surface ships, amphibious ships, and submarines. In recent decades, this included satellites, unmanned or remotely piloted vehicles, and robots. The reality is most U.S. military equipment was developed and fielded in the 1970s and 1980s and with few exceptions has been upgraded continuously using procurement dollars. Even systems like the F-35 being fielded today have planned upgrades that will extend its life for decades. For some systems, the upgrades essentially make them new capabilities that are significantly different from the originally fielded equipment. Good examples include the B-52 bomber and M-1 tank.

The discussion of equipment modernization allows us to examine the interaction of three major systems that are crucial to the modernization effort. The first is the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), the system that develops and validates military requirements (capability needs). Without a validated capability need, no changes to Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leader Development and Education, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy (DOTMLPF-P) systems can be justified and funded. The second system is the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) process, which prioritizes and justifies the funding of military programs. Without funding, no military equipment can be developed, procured and fielded. The final system is the Defense Acquisition System (DAS) that manages all equipment development and procurement. In addition to the complex, bureaucratic governance of the DAS, it is also subject to a body of laws and regulations designed to help protect taxpayers’ investments. All of these systems are bureaucratic, complex, and governed by different entities in the DoD. This makes equipment modernization a complex system of systems that is often viewed as frustrating, inefficient and expensive. While this lesson will not delve into the specific details of these processes, it will provide an introduction to them and their roles in delivering required capabilities to our Warfighters.

 Outside of equipment fielding and upgrades, modernization also involves changes in all DOTMLPF-P domains. When the Army decided to modularize around the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), this organizational change represented significant modernization in response to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, when the Army created the combat training centers and changed the way it trained units, it was essentially creating new capabilities in the form of better trained units. Other examples include significant changes to the NCO development system (leader development and education), creation of a cyber branch and the ongoing shift to a talent management system (both personnel). The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are similarly modernizing in all domains and the DoD has created a Space Force.

To succeed in delivering modern capabilities to the joint force, the services must use the three decision support systems (JCIDS, PPBE and DAS) in a coordinated way. With so many stakeholders involved in managing and executing these complex systems, it is difficult for any service to establish unity of command to align resources and prioritize efforts. In order to address this problem, the Army established Army Futures Command (AFC) in 2018 to lead the Army’s future force modernization enterprise. The establishment of AFC has been characterized as the largest restructure of the Army since 1973 and it marks a fundamental change in the Army’s approach to modernization. The Army’s Modernization Strategy, published in 2019, explains how the Army plans to transform the Army into a multi-domain force by 2035. AFC will lead that modernization effort.

— Jeff Wilson

​​​​​​​Faculty Publications:
  • Yuengert, Lou and Fred Gellert, “The Million (Billion) Dollar Question: What is Modernization?” (faculty paper, Carlisle, PA: Department of Command, Leadership, and Management, January 2021).
  • Defense Acquisition University, Introduction to Defense Acquisition Management (Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Acquisition University, September 2005).
Laws, Policies, Memos, and Regulations (sorted by regulation number):
Strategies and Reports:
  • Freier, Nathan (director). Beyond the Last War: Balancing Ground Forces and Future Challenges Risk in USCENTCOM and USPACOM, Report of the CSIS International Security Program (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013),
Commentaries (inclusion does not represent endorsement):
Racks in this Aisle:
Rack MA – Acquisition Frameworks & Reform - This rack provides resources on how the Department of Defense (DoD) systematically develops and delivers new warfighting capabilities to the Combatant Commands, and the supporting effort of prioritizing, funding, and managing Science and Technology (S&T) development Continue Reading
Rack MC – Capabilities Development - This rack provides resources associated with the capabilities development process, including the systems used in the U.S. at joint and service levels Continue Reading
Rack MD – Defense Industrial Base - This rack provides resources regarding the capabilities, capacities, and conditions of the defense industrial base relevant to modernization including intellectual property, contracting, supply chains, and innovation. Continue Reading
Rack MP – Program Management - This rack is intended to provide resources regarding the management of non-major weapons system acquisition programs -- such as soldier systems and combat support programs Continue Reading
Rack MR – Requirements Development - This rack provides resources associated with requirements development and communication, such as how the U.S. employs decision support systems to assess, advise upon, prioritize requirements for capability development Continue Reading
Rack MS – Science & Technology - This rack provides resources covering governance of the science and technology management processes and organizations such as the research labs Continue Reading
Rack MT – Research, Development, Test & Evaluation - This rack provides resources related to capability development after the science and technology phases. RDT&E is the suite of processes and systems that contribute to the eventual production of new weapons systems & equipment Continue Reading
Rack MW – Case Studies — Major Weapons Systems Development - This rack provides resources specific to the development of major weapons systems for the armed forces and includes several case studies from the U.S. Army War College resident and distance programs Continue Reading

Title image credit:  Technical Sergeant Sabrina Johnson, U.S. Air Force photo, public domain.