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Future Combat System Faces Tough Times

By the time Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Cockburn noted, the overall lifetime cost of the FCS as estimated by the SecDef's own Office of the Secretary of Defense had soared to $307.2 billion.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) March 14, 2007
The U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense is still alive and well in the Pentagon but it looks like tough times are ahead for Donald Rumsfeld's other pride and joy -- the Future Combat Systems programs.

The Future Combat Systems program is a visionary concept that offered the enticing promise of transforming warfare even more fundamentally than any effective BMD defense system would. Ironically, it was originally pushed not only by Rumsfeld during his now much criticized, immensely controversial six year stint as U.S. secretary of defense, but also by a man Rumsfeld came to loathe, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.

As Rumsfeld biographer Andrew Cockburn wrote in his recently published book "Rumsfeld," the FCS "was projected to consume at least $128 billion by 2014, and would consist of manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles all tied together by computer networks that would automatically identify targets and instantly destroy them with precise firepower."

Indeed, according to the most enthusiastic proponents of the FCS, "so rapidly would it destroy enemies ... that U.S. troops would no longer need armor on their vehicles," Cockburn wrote.

That was the theory. But it hasn't being going well. On March 2, The Hill newspaper listed the FCS as one being on a list of "several technologically complicated programs still in development" that the new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress "may be forced to quash"

The Hill put the current price of the FCS at $160 billion. It also noted that over the past three years, even the Republican-controlled 108th and 109th Congresses had slashed $825 million from the troubled program. Development work on the FCS began in 2003, but in March 2005, a Government Accountability Office official told Congress, as Cockburn noted, that "only one of 50 technologies are mature."

In August 2005, even senior Army generals speaking on the record at a U.S. Army Knowledge Management conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., admitted that the problems of developing reliable software to integrate the many systems required by the FCS project remained horrendous.

By the time Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Cockburn noted, the overall lifetime cost of the FCS as estimated by the SecDef's own Office of the Secretary of Defense had soared to $307.2 billion.

Now, the new Democratic masters of the U.S. Congress have the FCS in their sights. Ballistic Missile Defense remains a political hot potato. While Democrats in Congress led by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, want to focus BMD on mature technologies that can be realistically deployed in a few years. But they do not want to risk the political opprobrium of gutting BMD.

Also, the key technologies being developed by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and its contractors have chalked up successful operational test results for various programs ranging from a few to many.

Nations such as Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Israel and South Korea have eagerly embraced cooperation with the U.S. BMD programs or sought to buy mature systems such as the Patriot and the SM-3 anti ballistic missile systems for their own defense. The FCS is still years, perhaps decades, away from that kind of tangible achievement and credibility. And key leaders of the new Congress realize it.

"FCS has to be pretty ruthlessly vetted. And well see whether we get all these complicated systems," Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, told The Hill.

The failure of the U.S. armed forces to yet make significant headway against the Sunni Muslim insurgency in Iraq after six years of an unparalleled drive to load them up with high-tech wonder weapons at Rumsfeld's behest has peeled the Teflon coating from the FCS. In the eyes of many American lawmakers.

Abercrombie defined the new mood on Capitol Hill succinctly when he told The Hill, "We need to do a little more training and equipping and concentrate on the basics rather than the razzle-dazzle technologies." That assessment bodes ill for Rumsfeld's Future Combat Systems dream.

Source: United Press International

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