Conclusions from the conflict in Iraq could reopen the debate on whether the
Army’s plans for “transformation” are heading in the right
direction, said a U.S. congressman.
The pivotal role that heavy armored vehicles played in the war possibly means
that “we have to seriously look at whether our heavy units are going to
be adequate for the kind of battles like the one we are doing in Iraq,”
said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Penn., chairman of the subcommittee on tactical air
and land forces.
“I don’t know that we need to restart the Abrams,” Weldon
told National Defense. The Abrams main battle tank production line was closed
in 1992, in the expectation that, after the Cold War, the Army no longer needed
to buy new tanks and could keep the existing ones running until a replacement
What emerged as the next generation was the Future Combat System—an overarching
effort to field by 2010 a family of up to 18 types of lightweight combat vehicles
and robotic platforms, all linked under a common command-and-control network.
The project is the cornerstone of the so-called transformation of the Army into
a lighter and more mobile force.
“Gen. Shinseki’s [the Army chief of staff] plan for transformation
is solid,” but the experience in Iraq should be taken into account, Weldon
said. “I want to hear from the war fighters when the conflict is over
on whether or not they need to rethink the whole future of where we are going
in terms of transformation,” Weldon said. “It’s a question
that is going to be opened after this war.”
“The FCS is exciting,” but the potential cost is worrisome, he
said. The Army budgeted $13.5 billion for the project over the next five years.
FCS proponents received bad news in March when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
appointed an independent review panel to study the program.
Rumsfeld asked former Air Force chief of staff, retired Gen. Larry Welch, to
lead a group of experts in an evaluation of FCS. The timing of the appointment—only
60 days before the FCS program was scheduled to proceed into its next phase
of development—is suspicious, sources said. Speculation also is rampant
about Rumsfeld’s decision to probe the merits of the Future Combat Systems
only three months before the retirement of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who conceived
the FCS concept.
A number of retired Army officers who did not want to be quoted by name said
that, at first sight, it appears that the review panel may be a retaliatory
move against Shinseki, who had irked administration officials when he told Congress
that “hundreds of thousands” of troops would be needed in Iraq to
help stabilize the country after a U.S.-led campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.
Having a retired Air Force general in charge of reviewing the program is a
source of great consternation among FCS advocates, particularly a cadre of lawmakers
and staffers who have supported the transformation efforts not only with rhetoric,
but also with hundreds of millions of dollars.
A senior staff member of the defense appropriations subcommittee described
the situation as “scary.”
In the appropriations committee, he said, “there is great concern about
the Welch report.” Further, he added, “the Welch panel scares us,”
because it is being read as a sign that the FCS may be on shaky ground, and
that the Army’s transformation may be slowed down as a result.
“We took the trip to transformation,” the staffer told a senior
Army official recently. “We are still with you,” he said. “However,
I don’t think what’s going on is a good thing for transformation.”
Nevertheless, the staffer stressed, the members of the appropriations committee
are “in a partnership with the Army on transformation.”
One senior Army official closely involved in the FCS program said the review
panel announcement was a shock to him. But the silver lining in all this, he
said, is that Welch “is the right guy to do it.”
Welch led a review of the troubled Army Comanche helicopter program, so he
is more knowledgeable about ground-combat issues than many may suspect. As the
panel moves forward with the review, said the Army official, “We are going
to do everything we can to provide the information [Welch] wants.”
He said the Army remains hopeful that the study won’t hold up the FCS
Defense Acquisition Board review, scheduled for May 13. The DAB is a prerequisite
for FCS to move into the next phase, called system design and development.