Dramatic changes in the composition and character of armies take
decades to unfold. Often, initial hardware, organizations and operational
concepts are found wanting. In the case of the U.S. Army’s
Objective Force and its Future Combat System, everything may have
to work the first time.
Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, has set a deadline of
2003 for a decision to build the FCS, with production scheduled
to begin in 2007, the first unit equipped by 2008 and a deployable
capability by 2010.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense anticipates a major funding
crisis towards the end of the decade, precisely at the time when
the FCS will be ready to begin production. The Army is likely to
have to choose which of its modernization programs to continue and
which will have to be cut back or even terminated.
The Future Combat System (FCS) is the heart of the Objective Force.
It will be an array of up to 20 platforms, manned and unmanned,
ground and airborne. It is more than a single weapons platform.
The FCS is envisioned as a network, where each platform will serve
a distinctive primary function, each will exploit advances in sensor
and information technologies to serve as a reconnaissance, surveillance
and targeting node.
The common platform must be deployable on a C-130-sized transport
aircraft, be 70 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than current
armored combat systems, while maintaining equivalent lethality and
survivability. In addition, this system-of-systems could include
a variety of unmanned ground and air vehicles, autonomous (even
remotely operated) indirect-fire systems and unattended sensors.
For more than two years the Army and the Defense Research Projects
Agency (DARPA) have been investing billions of dollars on the FCS.
The Army plans to spend nearly $6 billion during the next five years
in science and technology to support the FCS program. Major areas
of investment include ballistic protection, lightweight structures,
compact power supplies and automation.
It is anticipated that the vehicles that will make up the FCS will
be much lighter than current armored combat systems. As a result,
there is a need to look at other ways than simply weight of armor
to provide enhanced survivability. Research is underway in signature
management, active protection, threat detection and cross-country
mobility. In order to achieve the desired lethality with a lighter
vehicle and to reduce ammunition requirements, the Army and DARPA
are pursuing technologies such as electromagnetic guns, directed-energy
weapons or advanced, lightweight kinetic-energy missiles. Robots
will have a big role to play in the FCS. Current concepts include
combat, logistics support and reconnaissance robots and airborne
Much of the development funding has gone to programs in the area
of command, control and communications, with the intent of creating
the capability for network-centric warfare. The FCS will require
an information system that connects hundreds, possibly thousands,
of platforms scattered across a large, complex battlefield. The
bandwidth requirements of such a system are enormous.
A central piece of the overall C4ISR architecture for the Objective
Force was to have been the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical
(WIN-T). The WIN-T is intended to provide full networking capabilities
for the FCS-equipped force. Recently, reports have surfaced that
the WIN-T program may be delayed. In addition to this revolutionary
capability, the Army is also investing in an array of on-the move
communications systems, command and control systems, and intelligence
The FCS Concept Technology Demonstration contract was awarded to
a team consisting of Boeing and Science Applications International
Corporation (SAIC). The companies are responsible for defining the
C4ISR architecture for the battalions and brigades that will constitute
the basic units of force of the Objective Force. Over the past few
weeks, the new system integrator has confirmed dozens of contracts
with both U.S. and international firms to inventory potentially
useful technologies in a wide range of fields.
The current concept for the FCS includes a family of 16-20 ton
vehicles, most of which will be manned, three or four unmanned ground
vehicles (UGVs) of various sizes and a set of unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs). The large vehicles could include an armored personnel carrier,
a reconnaissance vehicle, a mobile gun system, a command-and-control
vehicle and possibly a mortar unit and a large UAV/UGV carrier.
The unmanned ground vehicles may include two ammunition carriers,
one that will accompany the larger, manned systems and another to
support dismounted infantry, a robot reconnaissance vehicle, a non-line-of-sight
fire support system, and a mine countermeasures/engineering vehicle.
Three types of unmanned aerial vehicles are included in the conceptual
architecture for the FCS. There will be a small, tactical UAV able
to carry a 75-pound payload and stay aloft for six to eight hours.
This UAV could be deployed on many or all of the larger ground vehicles.
There also will be a medium altitude/endurance UAV and a large,
long-endurance UAV capable of lifting 10,000 pounds. Other advanced
concepts, including for a “marsupial-like” UGV that
can climb trees, are being considered.
The FCS will also have to operate with other systems that will
be part of the Objective Force. One of the most important of these
will be the Army’s new indirect fire support capability. With
the cancellation of the Crusader self-propelled gun, attention is
being focused on a system called Netfires. Netfires is a container/launcher
unit carrying either loitering attack missiles (LAM) or a precision
attack missile (PAM). Netfires boxes could be deployed across the
battlefield in order to provide on call fire support for the Objective
Force units. The LAM will be equipped with advanced sensors that
will enable it to operate in both the attack and ISR modes. Netfires
units could also be carried by one of the large unmanned ground
vehicles that will be part of the FCS.
Another system that is likely to be part of the Objective Force
is the RAH-66 Comanche scout helicopter, which is in development.
This advanced aircraft could operate either as a stealthy reconnaissance
system or as an attack platform. The Comanche may well be the first
multi-role manned air system deployed by any of the services that
exploits the revolution in information technologies.
Efforts to develop appropriate doctrine, operational concepts and
tactics for a FCS-equipped force are just beginning. In April, the
Army conducted a Transformation War Game in order to assess the
strategic value of the Objective Force. An important insight from
that game was the need to acquire special lift assets, such as an
advanced quad tilt-rotor transport, lighter-than-air craft and the
like to supplement and, eventually, take the place of the C-130.
In keeping with the current mantra of spiral development, the FCS
is a system-of-systems that will evolve over time. It is clear that
not all elements of the desired architecture will be proven by 2003
or available to equip the first Objective Force combat units by
In fact, the Army states that it plans to refresh the FCS technology
suite on a four-year cycle. It is likely that for some protracted
period of time, no two FCS-equipped units will be identical. This
could complicate logistics, command and control and operational
employment. The paramount danger is a force that is required to
constantly absorb new equipment, reducing its readiness to fight.
The FCS is a bold step by the Army into the future. It is also
a risky strategy. Fortunately, there are a variety of systems coming
into the force that could serve as alternatives in the event technologies
do not mature according to schedule. The new Stryker wheeled combat
vehicle will provide a relatively lightweight, flexible platform
that can be adapted to some, perhaps many, of the missions of the
FCS’s family of vehicles. The Comanche helicopter, the Predator
and Global Hawk UAVs and even the V-22 Osprey could provide air-power
components for the Objective Force, while the technologies for medium
and heavy UAVs are proven.
The FCS is currently on track. However, in order to meet the stressing
time lines established by the Army itself, the program will have
to receive the highest priority for resources and management attention.
The great armies of history have generally been associated with
a dominant type of warrior or weapon system. There was the armored
knight of the Middle Ages, the sword-wielding Japanese samurai,
the British “Tommy” with his Brown Bess musket and the
German panzer division of World War II, with its Panther and Tiger
Success in war often came to those nations that were the first
to introduce a new dominant weapon system or class of warrior. Often,
such success was fleeting, as others emulated the new way of war
or as the dominant weapon system encountered new environments, for
which it was less appropriate. In each case, the military organization
and operational art of the time were a direct product of the capabilities
and limitations of the dominant type of warrior or weapon system.
What was true in the evolution of warfare for some 5,000 years
may be about to change.
Daniel Gouré is a senior military analyst at the Lexington
Institute, a policy think tank in Arlington, Va.