But there is a potential new role for which the Aircrane may be perfectly suited. The U.S. Pentagon is exploring a concept called Joint Heavy Lift, which calls for an aircraft capable of carrying 20 to 28 tons of combat systems to the battlefield. To that, Fraenkel was equally forthcoming. "We are at the beginning phase of making appropriate contacts within the military," he said. If the green light is given for re-start, Fraenkel said, "we would partner with M7 to produce center sections for us."
The Joint Heavy Lift has an interesting story behind it. The program was originally intended to provide a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) heavy lift vehicle for the Marines and Army. It has been having trouble "getting off the ground" (pardon the pun) because the services want something vastly different. The Marines merely want a replacement for their CH-53 Super Stallions with something that can carry an external load of 14 tons over a 130 mile range.
The Army wants something far more ambitious. They want to produce a Heavy Lift VTOL system capable of hauling a 20 ton internal payload over a 1000 mile range. Just look at these wonderful computer-generated concept pictures available on Globalsecurity.org. It looks like a C-130 Hercules that has been mounted with a rotor blade that is the width of its wingspan.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself, "So What? This isn't the cockamamie proposed military platform out there." True, but the HLVTOL's unbelieveability is important because it is the unspoken Achilles' heel of Future Combat Systems.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command issued a pamphlet entitled "The Army in Joint Operations: The Army Future Force Capstone Concept" in April 2005. This document is intended to provide a conceptual framework for how the Army intends to fight behind the helm of FCS. Here is an excepted paragraph from section 5.3 entitled "Intratheater Operational Manuever:
The Future Force executes intratheater operational maneuver (see Figure 5-3) to extend the reach of the joint force thereby enabling the joint force commander to respond to opportunity or uncertainty, isolate portions of the battlefield, exploit success, and accomplish key campaign objectives. Operational movement of the force by ground, sea, or air can secure positions of advantage to destroy key capabilities and forces, extend tactical reach, achieve surprise, preemptively seize key terrain, overcome or avoid difficult terrain, accelerate the advance of the overall force, and block enemy forces. Such operational maneuver repositions forces in depth for immediate attack, substantively changing the geometry of the battlespace to U.S. advantage, and increasing complexity for the enemy. It also potentially exposes the entire enemy area of operations to direct attack, prevents resynchronization of enemy combat power, and denies reinforcement and sustainment. In all cases, forces must have the capability to reorient against follow-on objectives, with minimum delay. The process is repeated in rapid succession, and in concert with other ongoing operations, until enemy cohesion is destroyed beyond recovery.
So the future Army will be depend on a network of air assets that allow them around the 'hop' around enemy ground forces -- like an airborne blitzkrieg. It is certainly an interesting idea, but what will the Army do if those assets do not materialize in time? For that, you have to flip to the back of pamphlet to read section E-2 entitled "Alternate Futures." Specifically, a failure to "develop advanced lift capabilities to enable the use of unimproved air and sea entry points for force projection, operational maneuver, and sustainment" would:
Should these conditions continue into the future, the capstone concept this pamphlet describes will not be achievable. True joint interdependence would remain out of reach, with the current level of joint and multinational integration remaining in effect. Similarly, the capability to effectively combine new defeat mechanisms of dislocation and disintegration would be compromised. Land operations would almost certainly be constrained to traditional linear frameworks in major combat operations against effective adversaries. Significant improvement in the strategic responsiveness and operational agility of the Army would remain out of reach, particularly for the heavy force. The net effect would be one of stagnation and perpetuation of existing joint and Army doctrine into the foreseeable future, with only modest improvement in capability and operational utility.
So let me get this straight: The success of FCS, in all of its $200 billion, network-centric glory, is dependent on this thing getting off the ground? And the Army says that I am the one with the crazy ideas about the future force...