Army’s Next Combat Vehicle: Cheaper and Simpler
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Army lost a bruising battle to save its Future Combat Systems. Now the service is hoping that it can pick up the pieces and move on, although it’s not yet clear how.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates promised Army leaders that they could transfer money that they would have spent on FCS into a new combat vehicle development project, although one not likely to be as expensive as FCS. “You bet we’re not going to come up with another program that’s $150 billion,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey.
It is clear, however, that the Army does not trust its traditional “requirements” bureaucracy to come up with plans for a new vehicle. In mid-June, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli hosted a “ground combat vehicle blue ribbon panel” workshop to solicit “broad, candid ideas, thoughts, and information from distinguished individuals from across the Defense Department, academia and interested groups.”
The vice chief’s directive was that the Army “should consider a wide perspective,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Harrison, director of joint and futures capabilities at Army headquarters. Chiarelli specifically wanted to go beyond the “requirements and force development” community that traditionally has been responsible for recommending what weapon systems the Army should buy. He asked for “input from people who have the best interest of the soldiers at heart,” Harrison said in a Pentagon talk radio webcast. “We are opening up the tent.”
Chiarelli, who previously was second in command -- under Casey -- of U.S. troops in Iraq, has been an outspoken critic of the Army’s acquisition process and its repeated failures to meet the needs of combat troops.
Both Casey and Chiarelli will be working to convince Gates that whatever new combat vehicle program they end up proposing will represent the needs of the fighting force. One of Gates’ main criticisms of FCS was that it was designed for an earlier era and did not reflect the demands of current conflicts.
“Secretary Gates gave us three opportunities to make our case,” Casey said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But I could not convince him that we were incorporating the lessons of the current fight. I thought we had an 80 percent solution. He didn’t think we had enough,” he said. “That was a fundamental disagreement.”
The only element of the FCS program that was canceled was the manned ground vehicles. Gates assured Casey that the money would be “fenced” to pay for a replacement. Casey believes the Army can field a new vehicle in five to seven years.
He acknowledged that FCS always had been a tough sell. “We could not explain it. We spent more time explaining the program, unsuccessfully, than actually working on the program. The next one is going to be simpler.”