By: Rachel Madison
When the U.S. Army announced it would be locating its Army Futures Command (AFC) in the Greater Austin area in 2018, it didn’t take long for the community to realize the positive impact this new center would have on the region. From creating a myriad of jobs to partnering with local universities, the AFC has shaken up the region in the best of ways, and will continue to do so as it sets out to complete its mission to fully modernize the U.S. Army by 2035.
Ellen Troxclair, director for strategic partnerships at Army Futures Command, says the AFC is a huge asset to the Austin-Round Rock area because of the direct employment it provides, as well as to those who are hired externally because of defense contractors relocating to the area because of AFC. According to the most recent Texas Military Installation data, in 2020, a total of 586 direct positions exist, and a total of 2,342 positions exist both directly and indirectly.
“Another thing I’m excited about is our partnerships with Texas universities, whether it’s the University of Texas or Texas A&M, or Rice or Baylor,” Troxclair adds. “We have put in $157 million in strategic partnerships at these universities, and we’re doing really cool things like a hypersonic [and directed energy center] for next generation systems.”
The Army chose Austin because it was looking for a home for AFC that not only welcomed the Army, but also had the spirit and drive that aligned with the Army, said Maj. Terry Horner, deputy director of AFC.
“We narrowed our search like all other big businesses do,” Horner says. “It was between Austin, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Raleigh-Durham, but only Austin was a standout. Not only is this a wonderful place to live and work, but Austin has that right mix of industry, academic talent and proximately to private sector innovation.”
Whether it’s direct employment, investment in local universities or residual sales taxes from people relocating to the area, the AFC has made a huge impact, Troxclair says.
“In these less certain economic times, AFC is a consistent strong economic partner for the region,” she says. “Even though the headquarters is in Austin, may of the employees are living north of Austin in the suburbs like Round Rock, so we certainly see our presence, impact and partnerships expanding throughout the region.”
In addition, several locally based companies have initiated partnerships with AFC to help with the Army’s modernization efforts. For example, Ametrine Inc. manufactures and develops unique advanced multispectral camouflage systems; and BAE Systems helps customers stay a step ahead when protecting people and national security by providing advanced, technology-led defense, aerospace and security solutions.
Round Rock-based Fusion Constructive offers a front-end virtual environment that allows for the creation of training environments and collaboration through virtual and augmented realities; and Dell Technologies, also based in Round Rock, provides back-end technology and software needed to help modernize programming.
At a Round Rock Chamber Momentum luncheon earlier this year, Horner spoke about the impact the center is having on the Greater Austin area. Momentum is a campaign that funds economic development through a public-private partnership with local businesses, the chamber, and the City of Round Rock. Horner says AFC oversees 26,000 military personnel across more than twenty-five states and over a dozen countries.
“AFC represents the most significant Army reorganization since 1973,” Horner adds. “The Army realized we needed to transition and modernize. We had victories in the Gulf War in 1991 and again in Baghdad in 2003, and those systems served us well, but the ideas for those systems were developed in the 1960s and 70s. Our competitors, like Russia and China, have now matched us or exceeded us. The question the Army asked in 2017 was ‘How do we restore that dominant edge?’”
The answer to that question was to develop an organization that would help modernize the future, while also providing unity of command and effort across all of the Army’s modernization efforts. That’s when the AFC was born.
The Army has six modernization priorities that aim to drive material development for its forces, including long range precision fires, next generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, network modernization, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality.
“We want to have that [long] range advantage over our opponents, because right now some of our competitors have the range advantage, so the key is to reestablish that range,” Horner says of the Army’s first listed priority. “This past summer, in 2019, we successfully test fired an extended range cannon artillery which reached 70 kilometers using a 58-caliber gun.”
Horner adds that air and missile defense has increased complexity, and new technologies will defend ground forces against adversary air threats. Next generation combat vehicles will increase the firepower, speed and survivability of land forces, and will also allow them to pair with robotic vehicles. Future vertical lift will increase the maneuverability, endurance, lethality, and survivability of Army aircraft, increasing their operational reach and effectiveness against competitors.
“Blackhawk and Apache helicopters are what we’ve historically used,” Horner adds. “Through strong partnerships and streamlined authorities, we’ve increased the timeline for future technology for aircraft and we’re really proud of that.” The modernization of network technologies is necessary to command and control forces distributed across large areas. “We have to have a network that is interoperable, survivable, and able to communicate with our allies and partners in a joint and combined workforce,” Horner says.
Lastly, efforts to modernize soldier lethality will increase the capability of individual soldier weapons, provide Soldiers with enhanced night vision, and increase their ability to quickly understand and react to emerging situations. These efforts will be complementary to ongoing soldier performance initiatives to improve fitness, nutrition and resiliency.
Horner says the Army has also established two additional teams to help support modernization efforts. These teams include assured positioning, navigation and timing, and a synthetic training environment. “Think about how many items we have that rely on satellite technology,” Horner adds. “We need to be able to retain positional navigation and timing. We also need the synthetic training environment for soldiers, so they have scenarios and training to be better prepared to face real-world situations.”
Troxclair says the breadth and depth of what the AFC is doing worldwide is impressive. “The charge of AFC being responsible for the modernization of the Army and the future of how warfare is changing is huge,” she says. “They are really thinking into the future as the landscape of warfare changes to more cyber and cloud-based technology. The AFC is going to be responsible for the biggest modernization the Army has seen in decades, and it’s cool that they are pulling talent from the Austin region to do that. The talent and entrepreneurship of the Central Texas region is directly contributing to reshaping the United States Army. What a great asset and unprecedented opportunity.”
Horner adds that America is innovative, and its potential remained unmatched. “The challenge of AFC is to unlock that potential,” he says. “It’s not just about money or notoriety, it’s about the people, processes and culture. We want our future [children and grandchildren to] be grateful for the decisions the Army made back in 2018, by providing the training, equipment and methods to fight and win conflicts on the battlefield.”
For more information on AFC, visit their website.