Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Future of the US Army's FCS

I'd like to go back to my post here yesterday about the Pentagon's selected acquisition reports, specifically the 63.3% increase in the cost of the US Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Following the restructuring of the FCS program last year, it should have been clear that a cost increase was on the horizon. The Army most likely read the tea leaves as well and began its push to present its argument in favor of the FCS program. But is the FCS program in any real danger of serious cuts? Probably not.

First of all, the FCS program recently passed its functional review -- a review of the critical technologies upon which it's based -- with flying colors. But more importantly, the FCS program encompasses far too many different capabilities that the Army needs. Frankly, the Army did the smart thing in bundling its force upgrades into one program. The "18+1+1 platforms," as they are called -- the 18 FCS vehicles, along with the network and the individual soldier -- under the FCS program covers pretty much the Army's entire force.

So where does one begin to cut? One of the 18? Hardly. The Army will argue that it needs new cannons, especially given the cancellation of the Crusader program. Unmanned vehicles? Nah, they've have proven far too useful in recent conflicts, for missions from reconnaissance to the disposal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)(plus, the loss of an unmanned vehicle doesn't bring any political repercussions). The individual soldier? Yeah, that'll fly in Congress. And the network? Not a chance, given the Pentagon's focus on network-centric warfare.

Sure, there may be slight cutbacks in funding, but not enough to seriously wound the FCS program. What we're more likely to see is more rapid fielding of "spin-outs" from the FCS program, getting individual elements into the hands of warfighters more quickly, rather than waiting for the eventual culmination of the program. The Army's already started down this path and, if the program is in any jeopardy, will certainly "spin out" more to the current force more quickly than previously planned, especially with troops in the field wanting some of these new capabilities (Micro Air Vehicles, for instance).

The FCS program, despite its difficulties, is in no real danger of serious cuts. But more rapid fielding of some of its elements may be in the cards.

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