On Oct. 2, the United States Department of the Army announced the beginning of the end for the Rapid Equipping Force (REF), an organization under the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The force, based in Fort Belvoir, Va., has now stopped accepting new missions and will be fully discontinued in almost a year, by Sept. 30. Currently led by Director Col Joe D. Bookard, the REF was established in 2002 to support soldiers on the ground during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Aimed at providing equipment to troops through an accelerated acquisition process, REF is able to respond to requests quickly due to its personnel presence in the target areas of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The decision to dissolve the force was made as the landscape of U.S. geopolitical priorities shifts away from countering insurgencies in the Middle East and towards staying ahead of near-peer powers Russia and China. The army noted this shift in its announcement, conveying its goal of turning attention to great power competition and focusing on large scale multi-domain operations (MDO). These new priorities are embodied in the Army Futures Command (AFC), which became fully operational in July 2019 as the fourth army command. Its structure of cross functional teams is “all necessary to drive the MDO concept,” meaning they work across air, sea, land, space, and cyber to maintain competitive advantage over adversaries.
However, while the scope, size and geographic focus differ, the REF and AFC both emphasize an agile acquisition process to boost efficiency in delivering technologies to the operational army. The AFC was upheld as the “single largest development in the effort to speed acquisition” from an organizational standpoint, in an Army 2020 article.
Some members of the defense community have voiced concern for deactivating the REF, arguing its mission set out in 2002 is still important today. As a Defense One article acknowledges, there are still troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lack of an outlined plan for replacing the REF leaves open questions regarding specific support of these units abroad.
Questions remain as to where REF resources and personnel will be moved — we await details from the Army.