Army Wants Fast Combat Decision Making

By Sandra I. Erwin

Despite ongoing efforts to train Army soldiers how to fight in populated areas such as cities, troops still remain unprepared for fast-paced urban combat, said a senior service official.

During a recent speech to the Association of the U.S. Army, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John M. Keane, said the Army is "a little bit out of sync with the rest of the world" because it lacks the ability to react quickly in fast-moving military operations, where both armed and non-combatant civilians play significant roles.

Using the wars in the Balkans as examples of the type of military contingencies expected to pop up in the near future, Keane noted that the action for the Army is moving "inland," which means forces have to be trained to fight in "complex urban terrain."

The Army still has a lot of work to do in this arena, said Keane. "We teach our soldiers how to operate in urban terrain. But what we don't do very well is [teach them] how to deal with the urban infrastructure." Dealing with urban infrastructure means knowing how to move within buildings, how to handle hostage crises and unexpected actions by civilians.

"We have to teach our generals and colonels how to operate in that terrain, which is casualty inducing," said Keane.

"We are on a course for change," he said. At the core of the Army's plan to transform itself is the development of an "objective force," which will be equipped with lighter, smaller vehicles that can move more easily around cities and will be accompanied by robots that will act as eyes and ears for the soldiers. The objective force will be a work in progress for the next 12 to 25 years, and Keane believes the Army will be able, eventually, to move five divisions across the ocean in 30 days, as was stipulated by the chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.

During the past decade, said Keane, the time that political leaders have to react or intervene in a crisis has gone down dramatically. They must resolve crises in "days and weeks." In the past, he said, "We had months or years."

Despite the dominance of air strikes in today's military planning, said Keane, "land power" is the most compelling deterrent to an enemy, because it does not need ports and airfields from which to operate. With the "objective force," which will be more transportable than today's heavy armored units, he said, the Army will be able to "bypass ports and airfields" and reach the battle zone unencumbered.

This lighter force will be built around a new vehicle that now is called the "future combat system," or FCS. The vehicle is in the early stages of concept design, and the Army has not specified how it should look. It wants the industry to come up with innovative concepts. One mandatory feature for the FCS, however, is that it must fit on a C-130 medium-lift cargo plane, which essentially translates into a 20-ton or lighter vehicle. The current Abrams tank weighs 70 tons.

"FCS is vague, but that's OK, because we are encouraging new ideas," said Keane. "We are looking for a common chassis and a common division design." The Army has mandated, however, that FCS have much lower fuel and maintenance requirements than the current armored vehicles. Today, said Keane, 80 percent of what the Army transports on a deployment is support equipment. That is an excessive logistics burden and needs to change, he said.

To be able to react quickly to unfolding events on the battlefield, the FCS will be connected to unmanned aircraft hovering out in front of the land formations, collecting intelligence. That intelligence will be transmitted throughout the force and will help protect the FCS from lethal strikes and provide commanders with real-time information, said Keane. "The chief wants an answer [on FCS] by 2003. ... Then, we will make decisions based on that answer."

The essence of the FCS will be "command and control on the move," said Paul J. Hoeper, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Also addressing the Army association symposium, Hoeper cautioned that because FCS will be smaller than the current tanks, it will not provide "platform overmatch" against an enemy force but rather "capability overmatch."

Topics: Army News, Training, Combat Vehicles

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