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Army Must Afford FCS

Illustration of the Army's Future Combat System program.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Aug 15, 2006
Hard on the heels of a critical report from the Congressional Budget Office about the affordability of the Army's Future Combat System program officials told reporters Tuesday the Army couldn't afford not to develop it.

The FCS is a complicated network of weapons, vehicles, robots, unmanned aerial sensors, computer systems and software that will dramatically modernize the Army's ground forces over the next two decades, but at a price -- $120 billion, or $161 billion when adjusted for inflation.

As budget pressures increase on the Pentagon -- as it competes for dollars with Social Security, Medicare and other big ticket spending plans, even as taxes are cut -- FCS is a tempting budget target. And it is expensive to the point of choking the Army: According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2015 FCS will be absorbing half the service's annual procurement budget. At the height of the Reagan defense build up, according to the report, only 20 percent of the Army budget was spent on combat vehicles.

But Maj. Gen. Charles Cartwright, the Army's program manager for FCS, said the system, when fully deployed, will allow brigades to be 500 men smaller without a loss of capability from the current heavy brigade. And the automated systems in FCS allow 324 soldiers to go back into the infantry for each Brigade Combat Team. He said cutting 500 soldiers from a brigade, everything else remaining equal and saves the Army between $450 million and $700 million.

According to Cartwright, given the high cost of pay and benefits and long-term health care, those numbers save the Army in personnel, allowing it to do the same missions or more with fewer soldiers.

"We're providing not only more soldiers to the fight of the future but enabling them to be more capable," said Dennis Muilenburg, vice president-general manager, Combat Systems Program Manager, Future Combat Systems, the Boeing Company.

Freeing up soldiers is vital: Future battles are likely to be as manpower intensive as the counterinsurgency fight in Iraq, which demands "boots on the ground" -- it is not a fight that can be won from the air or the seat of a tank.

FCS is now at a critical time, both in terms of development and budget. The program was singled out last month by Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee as a major driver in climbing Pentagon budgets, and the House and Senate appropriations committees are separated by about $80 million in their fiscal year 2007 accounts for FCS.

The potential for a cut to the program in 2007 is a concerning one to program officials, as the FCS program is on the cusp of providing the first technologies to the current force.

Dan Zanini, FCS deputy program manager at SAIC, said the need for two of them has been validated by recent events: a mobile, vertical launch rocket system, and an unmanned sensor that can alert soldiers if a building or room that has been cleared is occupied by enemy fighters again.

Zanini noted the number of times Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon went in and cleared a portion of the village only to find later the area had been reoccupied," said Zanini. "With some of the sensors we have as you clear those facilities you are able to position the (unattended ground sensor to know) when and who had re-entered into the environment again."

Zanini said the battle in mountainous Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 proved the need for the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, a 15-precision missile launch system that can be towed by a vehicle and controlled by a computer in a Humvee. Army soldiers didn't have their own indirect fire system in Afghanistan and had to rely on air power to strike enemy positions, a prospect affected by the availability of aircraft and the weather.

"With NLOSLS they bring those indirect fire capabilities and have them at their beck and call," Zanini said.

The two are among a clutch of systems that will be delivered to an experimental brigade combat team for testing in 2008. If they perform well, they will begin transitioning to regular Army BCTs in 2010 at a rate of five a year.

Those capabilities won't necessarily protect FCS from budget cuts and further restructuring, but Cartwright believes the stability of the program -- there has been no cost growth since it was reorganized in 2004 -- and the fact that it is on time and 1 percent under budget for three years, might.

"It doesn't matter whether you take (the) upper-end estimate ... FCS is a cheaper proposition for the nation and the Army as we go forward with it," said Cartwright. "An Abrams (tank) still needs to be refueled every three hours versus every three days with FCS ... I cannot afford not to produce FCS."

"This program now moved into preliminary design phases. It's about building real stuff for the current force and the equivalent for future modular brigades," Cartwright said.

Source: United Press International

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