Thursday, May 17, 2007

Army turns up the rhetoric on FCS

After taking a $800 million hit on its fiscal year 2008 Future Combat Systems (FCS) spending request, the Army is punching back by turning up the rhetoric [Update: The broken link is now fixed. Sorry about that.]:

“The cost in modernizing is first of all a cost in dollars, but failing to modernize is a cost that is sometimes registered in lives,” Lt. Gen. Speakes said today during a roundtable with Pentagon reporters.

“The program is on track,” he said. “We have met our performance standards and we are on the eve of some really great developments that are going to start hitting the Army literally overnight.”


The Future Combat Systems also is fielding robots that can save lives. If robots make mistakes in defusing improvised explosive devices and the devices explode, no one dies, Lt. Gen. Speakes said. The robots are in use with units in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The proposed cuts to the program would effectively prevent the development of Future Combat Systems manned ground vehicles. This means Soldiers would operate Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles “indefinitely,” he said.


Another concept that would be eliminated is called the Mule. This is a small wheeled vehicle that follows Soldiers carrying supplies, spare parts, ammunition and water. This is on the cusp of testing and would have to stop if the cuts in the system are made, he said. Another unmanned aerial vehicle would also be canceled.

Soldiers would be very negatively affected by these cuts, Speakses concluded.

“We will be doomed to spend the next 20 to 30 years with the existing combat platforms we have today,” he said. “It’s a betrayal of our trust to Americans when we don’t invest in them.”

I thought the Army was above exploiting force protection arguments, but I guess I was wrong. It isn't too surprising though, considering how the Army uses FCS as an all-or-nothing tactic to foist more than a dozen unproven platforms on the American taxpayer.

The phrase I hear the most around my office is "FCS is Army modernization," which implies the Army is actively not preparing a Plan B for its future force. FCS is a Swiss watch and the Army is gambling that the Congress or Secretary of Defense won't try to pare it down out of a fear that even a small change will cause the whole thing to fall apart.

The most galling part of this article is that the Army is threatening to drop the most innovate parts of FCS in response to the budget cuts. Why sacrifice great ideas like the MULE or the Class IV UAV just to save carbon-copy replacements for current platforms, such as the M1 Abrams or M2 Bradley? Shouldn't the Army be more concerned with generating new capabilities than just recapitalizing its fleet of armored vehicles?

The new wisdom of technology on the battlefield is that in the world of guided-weapons warfare, platforms don't matter as much any more. As I've pointed out before, precision-guided munitions have changed the traditional calculus of warfare. Platforms (and unmounted soldiers) can fire munitions farther and with such a degree of accuracy that metrics like rate of fire aren't important anymore. If the XM982 Excalibur makes the M109 Paladin more effective than modern howitzers, why design a new one?

I have one last parting shot for FCS advocates: Since the Army plans to equip the 3-year old Stryker with mortar, reconnaissance, and infantry carrier packages, why do they need the No-Line-of-Sight Mortar, Infantry Carrier Vehicle, and Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicle? This seems like a pretty clear duplication of effort.

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