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War Is Not A Video Game FCS Follies Part Two

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Jan 31, 2008
Two of the greatest generals in U.S. history won their greatest battles because they were out of touch with their headquarters or refused to be reined in by them.

The long, bloody stalemate in the U.S. Civil War that cost 650,000 lives out of a total population of only 30 million did not end until Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his Army of the West cut loose its telegraph communications with Washington and drove its way across Georgia and the Carolinas, breaking the back of Confederate resistance at long last.

In World War II, Gen. George S. Patton, easily the greatest tank commander among the Western Allies, repeatedly complained that over-cautious commanders at headquarters far back were trying to rein in his hard-charging Third Army as it drove spectacularly across Europe from Normandy to the outskirts of Prague.

And even in the German army, the early dazzling victories of Panzer Gen. "Hurrying Heinz" Guderian across Poland, France and Russia were eventually halted and ended by Adolf Hitler's obsessive caution.

Yet the assumption of the Future Combat Systems program, now being developed by the U.S. Army and other U.S. forces at a cost of at least $200 billion is that if an integrated, reliable software that can function well amid the stress of battle in real time can be created, the enhanced control from the center that it offers will make future wars far easier to win.

In fact, the opposite is more likely the case: Leading U.S. military theorists such as the late U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd and his longtime colleague William S. Lind, now with the Free Congress Foundation, have argued that blitzkrieg war, or as they call it, Third Generation War, was only made possible by the de-centralization of control, freeing front-line commanders and officers down to the small unit level to use their own initiative to probe for weaknesses in enemy fronts and dispositions.

Even the Soviet Red Army increasingly moved to this kind of decentralized and aggressive tactical combat doctrine during the years of its greatest victories in 1943 and 1944. And this ethos was also at the heart of the long run of spectacular Israeli military triumphs from the establishment of the state in 1947-48 all the way through the dramatic reversal of fortune that saved the Jewish state in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Even then, the battle achievements of Gen. Ariel Sharon against the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula were only possible because Sharon ignored Gen. Shmuel Gonen, his direct commander, who he despised, and exploited the key opening between two Egyptian armies to cross the Suez Canal and cut one of them off.

In terms of Boyd and Lind's concepts, however high tech the achievements of the FCS prove to be, they would really serve to ensure that the U.S. Army remains a centralized, regimented Second Generation War army like all the armies in World War I were until the German army pioneered many of the key concepts of blitzkrieg in its March 1918 offensives on the Western Front.

earlier related report
Clausewitz and Kelvin on the FCS
Every fundamental mistake that was made in the disastrous Future Intelligence Architecture program is now being repeated in the Future Combat Systems projects -- the main difference being the FCS will cost at least 50 times as much.

The Future Intelligence Architecture program was made to create a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, fleet of orbiting space satellites which would make the United States secure for decades to come. Conceived by the Democratic Clinton administration and approved by Republican --controlled congresses, it cost $4 billion before the plug on it was finally pulled by the Bush administration.

Yet the same underlying conceptual mistakes that doomed the FIA are have already been replicated in the far more ambitious and sweeping FCS program to try and make the U.S. armed forces supreme, lean, mean fighting machines that will be invincible and unchallengeable for decades to come.

As we noted some weeks ago in our study of the FIA fiasco, the first lesson U.S. policymakers need to learn is to pick horses for courses. The Clinton administration chose the Boeing Co. to build its next generation of surveillance satellites. But previously it had relied on Lockheed Martin for decades to do that kind of work. In that specialized field, therefore, Lockheed Martin had painstakingly gathered the kind of expertise and institutionalized experience that Boeing lacked.

Boeing remains the world's pre-eminent manufacturer of civilian airlines and continues to produce a stunning range of the world's most advanced combat aircraft, high-tech naval and military weapons systems and outstanding anti-ballistic missile work. But it had no experience in producing reconnaissance satellites, whereas Lockheed Martin had specialized in producing the best in the world for more than 30 years.

Other ways of expressing this lesson in terms that even Pentagon policymakers and Capitol Hill legislators can understand is: "Keep backing winners" and "Don't tamper with success." Boeing and Lockheed Martin both continue to produce a remarkable diversity of outstanding high-tech military and space systems.

When they, or any other major U.S. company, has an established record in any field of producing such systems within set timeframes and under budget -- or not too far over budget and schedule, and the systems then work admirably, Washington policymakers should not be seduced by promises of sweeping savings from companies that, however well established they are in other fields, are boldly venturing into new ones where they have little, if any, development and production experience.

However, as the Washington Post reported on Jan. 24, Rumsfeld and his Pentagon policymakers repeated that fundamental error of the FIA fiasco when they approved the key contracts for the FCS programs.

Their prime contractor -- again, Boeing -- and the U.S. Army both refused to use Microsoft's proprietary software and opted to create their own operating system through Boeing -- the System of Systems Common Operating Environment. And according to the Post report, "Boeing said it is using software developed by a hodgepodge of companies including Red Hat and Wind River Systems."

That decision broke a cardinal rule for making weapons systems simultaneously cheaper and more reliable -- always buy mature technology off the shelf whenever you can. Reinventing the wheel from scratch usually results in square or oblong wheels.

NEXT: More software errors

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