Future Army to ‘FedEx’ Vehicles to the Battlefield

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Army’s future combat vehicle, a yet-to-be-defined platform that the service wants to field in 2012, potentially could be “FedExed” to the battlefield, according to the officer in charge of the project.

The so-called “future combat system,” (FCS) is in the early stages of concept design, but the Army already knows that it should weigh between 10 tons and 20 tons. At that weight, the vehicle would be transportable on a tactical cargo aircraft, such as the Air Force C-130 Hercules. But the Army also is planning for “deployability using commercial assets,” said Lt. Col. Marion Van Fosson, the Army’s program manager for the FCS. The project currently is managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“It turns out that the actual volume constraint inside the C-130 is generally a little less than the volume/weight constraint in commercial assets,” Van Fosson told a conference of the Army’s Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, in Dearborn, Mich.

“You might be able, so to speak, to FedEx our force to near theater and then use our lift assets to go from near theater into the theater,” he explained.

“That is [just] one concept,” Van Fosson cautioned. “It may not be the right answer.” The bottom line, he said, is that “we have to look for opportunities to move things rapidly in the theater.”

Ideally, however, the Army hopes that it can afford to build its own tactical cargo aircraft, which may come in the form of a large helicopter.

Being able to move vehicles in and out of the theater vertically would be preferable in many cases, said Maj. Gen. James Snider, chief of staff for research, development and acquisition at the Army Materiel Command. The Army currently can transport lighter cargo in the Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, but in the future, the service would want a helicopter that can carry a 20-ton vehicle. This large aircraft is known as the “future transport rotorcraft” (FTR).

“The transition to FTR is something we are taking very seriously,” Snider said in an interview, during a conference of the Vertical Flight Society, in Arlington, Va.

The C-130 requires runways, which is the main reason FTR is becoming increasingly desirable to the Army, Snider said. There are some “technology challenges” in building such a sturdy helo, such as the need for more advanced materials and propulsion systems, he said. Cost also is a problem, since the Army has no money in its budget for FTR today. It would be a “daunting” effort, Snider said.

In addition to a large helicopter, the Army also is considering a large tilt-rotor hybrid plane, called the quad-rotor, made by a Bell-Boeing partnership.

Topics: Combat Vehicles, Aircraft Carriers, Aviation, Logistics

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