The Army is redirecting priorities in the Future Combat Systems program, in
an attempt to meet short-term needs for new technologies. This shift in emphasis
means the program will be less about developing futuristic concepts and more
about upgrading the current tanks, armored infantry vehicles and trucks.
Program officials assert that the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Peter J.
Schoomaker, supports the FCS and intends to keep the $15 billion project on
track to field a new family of vehicles by 2010. But the ongoing wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan clearly have forced the Army to reassess the program goals.
While the FCS previously was viewed as a long-term modernization effort, now
the chief wants FCS to begin delivering technologies as soon as possible.
The plan is to “spin off capabilities” out of FCS into the Abrams
tank and Bradley infantry vehicle fleets, said Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell Jr.,
military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition. But
he cautioned that the FCS program is not being significantly restructured or
downscaled. Rather, other programs will be “adjusted” to take advantage
of the new technologies developed in FCS, Caldwell told National Defense.
Since the FCS got under way more than three years ago, the predominant message
heard from senior officials has been the notion of FCS as a “network”
or a “system of systems” that would usher the Army into the information
Each FCS brigade, called a unit of action, will run 30 million lines of software.
More than half of the money in the program will be allocated to ground combat
vehicles and C4ISR (command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance) systems.
A seamless network of light ground vehicles and aircraft remains the essence
of the FCS, but program officials now are stressing that FCS is first and foremost
about putting technology in the hands of soldiers. During an industry conference
last month sponsored by the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, in Dearborn,
Mich., the program manager for FCS, Brig. Gen. Donald F. Schenk, told contactors
that they “need to work fast.”
Despite widespread skepticism that the program may not be able to deliver a
new generation of vehicles to begin replacing tanks and Bradleys in less than
a decade, Schenk said that the goals are achievable. But in his opening comments
to the conference, he acknowledged that, with the Army at war, the focus has
changed. The technologies of the FCS could “transition” to other
programs “more quickly than most people think,” Schenk said.
Among the technologies that could “spiral” from FCS into the current
force are wireless communications systems, active protection for vehicles, diagnostics
devices to predict engine failures, hybrid-electric power units and advanced
truck suspensions, said Albert Puzzuoli, deputy program executive officer for
Army ground combat systems.
But for FCS to be successful, he stressed, the Army and its contractors must
fix a vexing problem that affects today’s weapons systems: electronics
obsolescence. The term refers to the difficulties in upgrading older weapon
systems because the electronic components often are out of production and not
available in the commercial market. This could pose serious hurdles as the Army
figures out how to upgrade the Abrams and the Bradley, so they can remain in
the fleet for at least 20 more years.
The Army’s ability to “spiral” technologies out of FCS into
Abrams and Bradley depends on “how we attack our electronic obsolescence
problems,” Puzzuoli told the TACOM conference. One solution would be to
develop a new, less complex electronic architecture in the Abrams and Bradley
that is “somewhat compatible” with FCS, he said.
Unless this matter is resolved, he added, “FCS, one day, will suffer
electronic obsolescence issues.”
Puzzuoli suggested that one of the more pressing technology needs in the near
future will be to equip the Abrams tanks with new or remanufactured engines.
The Army had awarded a contract to Honeywell Corp. in 1999 to develop a new
turbine engine, the LV100. The plan was to build 1,600 engines to be installed
on all Abrams tanks and Crusader artillery vehicles. But the cancellation of
Crusader and cutbacks in the Abrams upgrade program drove down the number of
engines to fewer than 600. An expected higher price for the LV100 (as a result
of a smaller order) and technical problems experienced in the program have prompted
the Army to reassess whether it should cancel the project and start over.
“We are currently evaluating the status of that program and where the
future lies,” Puzzuoli said.
The current engine, the AGT1500 turbine, is fuel guzzling, has poor reliability
and high maintenance costs, he said.
In fiscal year 2004, the Army will need to overhaul more than 1,200 tank engines,
a threefold increase over 12 months. The Anniston Army Depot, in Alabama, currently
overhauls about 400 engines a year.
The commander of TACOM, Army Maj. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III, said he fears
that shortages of key components could severely undermine the depot’s
ability to deliver enough engines to meet the Army’s needs in Iraq.
The potential cancellation of the LV100 is not related to the increased need
for AGT1500 engines, Thompson said in an interview. “If they don’t
continue the program, we’ll have a competition to reengineer and increase
the reliability and the durability of the AGT1500.”
Also of immediate need in the field is additional protection for Humvees and
other trucks that are not armored. As U.S. forces in Iraq endure continuing
attacks by rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and various explosive devices,
TACOM officials are rushing to come up with “countermeasures,” such
as armor kits.
Ideally, TACOM would like to build more of the up-armored Humvees, but the
production line only can assemble 220 per month. The Army has asked for at least
Until enough up-armored Humvees can be delivered, TACOM is providing interim
alternatives, such as armor kits and a newly designed armor door that can be
applied on existing Humvees. The Army’s depots will make 1,000 armor doors
for immediate delivery to Iraq, Thompson said.
Armor kits also will be needed for medium and heavy trucks, he said. Future
Army rotations in Iraq will see fewer Abrams and Bradleys, and more wheeled
vehicles, including the new Stryker.
Contractors, meanwhile, await specific direction from the Army on how it will
go about transitioning from the current force to the so-called Future Force,
equipped with FCS technology.
Much of the technology the Army wants in FCS already exists, experts contend.
Vehicle manufacturers are coming forward with unsolicited concepts that aim
to prove that.
United Defense LP, for example, recently unveiled a 20-ton armored vehicle
equipped with a 120 mm gun that was fired at a shooting range in California,
according the UDLP officials. The demonstrator—powered by a hybrid-electric
engine—is a modified armored gun that originally was developed in the
early 1990s for Army light forces and subsequently was cancelled to fund other
UDLP resurrected one of the six 105 mm prototypes and installed a 120 mm gun
designed at the Army’s Watervliet Arsenal.
The company claims that the vehicle is not intended to meet FCS requirements,
given that the Army selected General Dynamics as the provider of direct-fire
vehicles for FCS. UDLP was designated the supplier for the artillery systems.
In what appears to be a tit-for-tat move, General Dynamics unveiled its own
concept for a 20-ton 105 mm howitzer, which would be compatible with the Stryker
family. Company officials said the Army has not yet settled on whether the FCS
howitzer will be 105 mm or 155 mm, even though UDLP is developing a 155 mm non-line-of-sight
cannon for FCS.
As far as FCS requirements are concerned, the Army has been “really vague,”
said Dean Lockwood, combat vehicles analyst at Forecast International, a market
research firm. For that reason, “contractors are showing what is possible
and what is not.”
Lockwood believes that the Army is moving toward a hybrid force of light quick-reaction
and heavy armored units. “With FCS, they want something in the middle.”
Stryker, he said, is the “first incarnation of FCS. It’s the test-bed
and interim program for it.”
Marine Lt. Gen. James Cartwright, of the Joint Staff, called FCS “the
most transformational thing that is going on in the Department of Defense.”
Given the uncertainty about future conflicts and geopolitics, “the Army
knows its goals are probably ambitious,” Cartwright said in a speech to
the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. The schedule may slip,
“but they’ve got the right mindset,” said Cartwright. “They’ve
got a heck of a challenge.”