The Army’s Future Combat System is one of the programs that
the Pentagon has put on a fast track, after the cancellation of
the Crusader artillery vehicle. But despite an accelerated schedule,
the concept design phase of the FCS will not be completed until
at least 2003.
Meanwhile, program officials are trying to anticipate what threats
FCS may encounter in future battlefields. The unpredictability of
potential enemy capabilities beyond 2010 makes the job of creating
the FCS all the more challenging, said Brig. Gen. Donald Schenk,
the Army program manager for FCS.
“We know that we are being watched every single day,”
he said. During the past several months, Schenk’s office has
been working on defining “threshold” capabilities for
the FCS, as the program continues its concept and technology development
phase, or CTD.
During a combat vehicles conference of the National Defense Industrial
Association, Schenk spoke in vague terms about the types of capabilities
he expects that FCS will have. The vagueness is understandable,
because the FCS program was intended to not be just another vehicle
project. The Army, along with the Defense Research Projects Agency,
purposely refuse to pigeonhole FCS as a smaller version of the Abrams
or the Stryker. They want FCS to be a radical new weapon system
that will give the Army not only firepower and speed, but also flexibility
to move around in non-conventional battlefields, such as cities
and mountain ridges.
The capabilities of FCS, said Schenk, will come partly from technology,
but also from innovations in doctrine, training, leader and soldier
A recent decision to expedite the deployment of FCS from 2010 to
2008, however, has complicated the development options, because
some technologies may not be ready on time, Schenk said. “Doors
of technology opportunity [have been] slam shut,” he said.
“We have to figure out a way to leave doors open.”
The cancellation of Crusader in May prompted Defense Department
officials to ask the FCS program office to figure out ways to accelerate
the indirect-fire portion of FCS. The idea would be to transfer
some of the technology already developed for the Crusader program.
“What we would like to do—through the imposition of
advanced technologies—[is to migrate] as much technology as
we can from the current Crusader program” to the non-line-of-sight
FCS, said Michael Wynne, principal deputy undersecretary of defense
for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The Army had been considering combining the direct and indirect
fire missions in a single vehicle. So it’s not clear how the
mandate to accelerate the indirect fire system will affect the FCS
“I know the Army is thinking about how do you reduce the
life-cycle costs and not have everybody have sort of unique systems,”
said Wynne. Asked whether the FCS would be a lighter version of
Crusader, Wynne dismissed the question as too speculative. “It’s
[as if] you were asking me in 1920 to predict [how different] cars
produced in 2000 would be,” he said.
He noted that, not matter how FCS turns out, “you’ll
have to have a gun, ... you’ll have to have a fire-control
system, and you’ll have to have a way of moving it around.”
But he suggested that it would be conceivable to view the indirect-fire
FCS as an evolution of the Crusader. “I think everybody always
gets excited that we’re going to do a clean sheet of paper
design,” said Wynne. “At the day it’s normally
Schenk’s office did not respond to questions from National
Defense about how the Army plans to accelerate the FCS indirect-fire
The importance of fielding a lightweight, but robust artillery
system came to light in recent months, as veterans of Operation
Enduring Freedom recounted their experiences fighting in Afghanistan’s
rough, mountainous terrain. “History has proven that artillery
is important, but future combat will require lighter and more mobile
systems,” said Maj. Daniel Greenwood, of the 26th Marine Expeditionary
In an interview, he explained that, even though artillery was not
necessary in Afghanistan, things may change in the future. The problem
over there was the terrain “We were concerned that we could
not get the artillery and the ammunition up there, because it was
just prohibitive with the weight. ... When we were doing the airfield
seizure at Khandahar, there was no place where we could establish
a fire position for the artillery.”
Next Step for FCS
The Army and DARPA awarded a Boeing-SAIC team a $154 million contract
to begin the design of FCS concepts. Boeing was designated as the
“lead systems integrator.” The arrangement is unusual,
because the Boeing team does not include any of the traditional
combat vehicle manufacturers.
The FCS is an “infantry centric kind of organization,”
said SAIC’s John Gully. “We are combining arms at the
lowest level,” he said. “We have some non-line-of-sight
mortar teams, robotic assault teams; we have beyond line-of-sight
and line-of-sight fires, an assault team and the infantry.”
Each of the FCS brigades is designed to fight a high intensity
battle for three days, or low-intensity operations for seven days
without re-supply, said Gully. The number of vehicles in the FCS
will be slightly lower than in a Brigade Combat Team, or BCT, while
there will be “substantially fewer soldiers than in the BCT,”
The weight goal for an FCS brigade is 12,000 tons. Each vehicle
is expected to weigh between 16 and 20 tons.
According to DARPA’s Col. William Johnson, the 16-ton is
a requirement for C-130 transportability into a “hot zone,”
without fuel. “Some of the systems are heavier than that,
in particular the gun systems, and so when you get heavier that
limits your range and also where you can go.”
The goal is to deploy a battalion-size unit in nine hours, Gully
said. “In the first hour, you establish a 12 km perimeter.
You bring in the armored reconnaissance vehicles, which have sensors
and direct fires, and you bring in your mortar, which can reach
out to about 12 km, and you bring in the soldiers to establish that
In the next hour, he said, the perimeter is extended out to 50
km. Small unmanned drones are used for surveillance and reconnaissance.
A so-called Netfires system would provide the fire support. Netfires
is a developmental truck-mounted launcher that fires a variety of
missiles. It’s also known as “missiles in a box.”
“Then, you bring in TUAV [Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle],
which gets your eye in the sky at 15,000 feet,” Gully said.
“Now, you have got 100 km established. In the end, you can
see 183 total vehicles deployed in nine hours, 79 of which are shooters.”
All the vehicles would be based on a common core of components,
said Gully. “They all share common electronics interfaces
and software packages. There is a 70 percent commonality within
the 16-ton family,” Gully said. “The commonality, we
found, will reduce the number of software packages by 75 percent.”
The family of 16-20 ton vehicles includes a small UAV carrier which
can transport up to 32 aircraft, and also a mortar system, “because
we have a lot of applications out of mortar,” Gully said.
Additionally, the FCS family will have a manned control vehicle
that will operate the robots and re-supply vehicles.
The armored personnel carrier plays an important part in the brigade,
he said. It has a 10-man crew and a driver who will all face forward,
explained Gully. It is also supposed to have a hybrid-electric drive,
“which increases the interior volume of the vehicle by 40
percent and if that proves to be correct than we are going to have
a very big deal in small combat vehicles getting that type of improvement,”
As far as the armor goes, “we are looking to provide 14.5
mm protection all around and 30 mm protection everywhere else,”
said Gully. “That is a challenge. It is going to be a big
improvement in survivability over legacy systems.”
The LSI will work with the Army and various contractors to develop
the concepts and specifications, he said. “Our open-platform
architecture will allow us to establish and maintain the interfaces,
and ensure that the best technology and systems are included in
Block I and in subsequent upgrades,” he said.
The selection of the weapons is the most difficult and controversial
of the subcomponents in FCS, said Gully. There is an ongoing debate,
for example, as to whether the vehicles should have just guns, just
missiles, or both.
The Army calls each FCS unit a “unit of action,” Schenk
said. “The unit of action works with something called the
unit of employment, more like maneuver,” he explained. The
FCS unit of action comprises a wide array of systems, all networked
“The systems include manned and unmanned combat systems,
munitions, guns, missiles, mobility subsystems, communication systems,
network protocols, various sensors, command and control and decision
aids,” Johnson said.
The centerpiece of the formation is the soldier, he said. “How
do we know that we are successful? ... When the soldier is trained
to be quick, organized and ready to perform a wide array...of missions
and survive,” he said.
“The soldier is the most important element in the system
of systems architecture,” said Gully. The FCS will be compatible
with the Land Warrior and the Objective Warrior infantry systems.
Teams will be organized and trained to fight as an integrated unit,
not as individual soldiers, Gully said. “The dismounted soldiers
are equipped not only with Land Warrior or Objective Warrior ensembles,
but will also have organic UAVs or UGVs [unmanned ground vehicles],
digital map support and the ability to call in fires for the brigade,”
There are three sizes of UAVs: the small aircraft is the workhorse
of the concept, with 32 of them on one platform. This UAVs will
carry a 75-pound payload, have six to eight-hour endurance and fly
to about 1,000 feet. “They are low cost and expandable,”
A larger vehicle will have a 10,000-pound payload and long endurance.
The third category would be the Shadow TUAV.
Other concepts that may be incorporated include a robotic mule
and marsupial, where a smaller robot is controlled by a larger “mother”
Under the current plan, the CTD phase of the FCS would continue
until late 2003. A system development and demonstration phase is
scheduled for 2004-2006. Low-rate production would start in 2007
and full-rate production and deployment could begin in 2011.
From its initial $154 million contract, Boeing has set aside $50
million so far for subcontractors, said Jerry McElwee, Boeing’s
vice president for FCS. “We’ll need help from the industry
to help us define architecture,” he said. “We are looking
for innovative and state-of-the art technologies.”
At press time, negotiations were under way between the Bush administration
and Congress to apply to FCS some of the $475 million that the Army
had budgeted for Crusader in fiscal 2003. Sources said about $300
million could end up in the FCS account.