- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2000

Army officials are recommending slashing procurement of the futuristic RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter its largest aviation program to bankroll a transformation to peacekeeping and small-war forces, says a confidential memo.

The congressional document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, states that Army acquisition officials are recommending a 50 percent cut, from 1,292 helicopters to 625.

The memo, which is based on a draft Army aviation modernization plan, also says the service intends to retire all 400-plus AH-1 Apache and 1,000-plus Huey helicopters in mid-decade.

An Army spokesman at the Pentagon declined to comment on the draft.

"It's a document in draft and will come out in April, and I really can't talk about things that are pre-decisional," said Maj. Bill Bigelow. "The Army is committed to the Comanche program. The current plan is to field approximately 1,200 Comanches."

The cuts would represent the most significant scaling back of Army firepower to help generate the $70 billion needed to restructure the service's 10 active divisions by 2014. Buying 1,292 Boeing Sikorsky Comanches is projected to cost $48 billion, with the first aircraft operational in 2007.

Now in the prototype stage, the combined scout-attack helicopter is designed to be a light, high-tech killing machine stuffed with futuristic night-vision and communications gear.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, announced the major Army transformation in October. Since then, he has urged his staff at a whirlwind pace to create the first lighter, more mobile brigades at Fort Lewis, Wash., and scrub the five-year budget plan to find the billions of dollars in needed savings.

Army sources say Gen. Shinseki wants the transformation locked in by the end of his four-year tenure to prevent a successor from changing course. The idea is to take an essentially Cold War Army designed to fight a great land battle in Europe and convert it into swifter brigades able to respond to peace enforcement missions in a matter of days, not weeks.

"It remains to be seen whether the chief of staff will support such a reduction," the confidential congressional report states. "The Army is holding out the expectation that by the time the 625th Comanche is produced, a 'Comanche Plus' program will begin to replace the aging Apache."

The Comanche slashing, if approved by Gen. Shinseki, is not the only weapons program being sacrificed to fund the restructuring.

Army documents show that 10 other systems are being canceled or scaled back.

One Army document, for example, says the Army plans to cancel the next generation of Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. The risk, the document says, is that soldiers could run out of existing stocks in the event of war.

The Army's five-year spending plan shows it wants to cancel the Army tactical missile system (Atacms), a mobile command and control unit, the Grizzly mine-clearing vehicle and the Wolverine heavy assault bridge. Slated for significant cuts are the Crusader artillery piece, its ammunition supply vehicle and the Future Scout and Cavalry Vehicles.

The Army's internal documents, and the confidential congressional analysis, say the savings come at the cost of lowered combat capabilities. For example, killing an improved version of Atacms, a deep-strike artillery system, means the Army will have to rely on Air Force bombers to hit some targets.

Killing the Stinger missile means the Army will have to rely on the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), which is not yet in production.

"There are no substitutes for the Grizzly and Wolverine vehicles, programs which are being killed purely for economic reasons," states the congressional paper being circulated to key decision-makers on the Hill. "The Wolverine kill," it said, is "especially" problematic.

The fact the Army is admitting to operational shortfalls and is also killing programs promises to create opposition in Congress.

The Army is now trying to sell the plan to lawmakers. Briefing papers, labeled "close hold pre-decisional," contain the names of each member of Congress who has a stake in saving the systems, the states where the hardware is produced, the contractor and the number of jobs at risk.

The congressional analysis sums up the Army's dilemma: "Over the last few years, the [Senate Armed Services Committee] has endeavored to convince the Army to deal with the increasing strategic irrelevance of a heavy, Cold War-structured force. Gen. Shinseki is to be applauded and generally supported for undertaking that transformation. However, as with any undertaking of this size and importance, there are and will be considerable areas of controversy and dispute."

The Army documents reveal plans to kill a "smart munition" version of the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), but warns it will leave soldiers without "all-weather capability." Killing the tanklike Grizzly means the Army loses wide mine-clearing capability.

"The Army still recognizes a requirement for the canceled capabilities," the congressional paper says, "but sees them as necessary bill payers for the transformation."

The Crusader artillery system will be cut by more than half, from 1,124 to 450 pieces. The program will also be delayed three years while the contractor works to reduce the weight of the howitzer and ammunition supply vehicle from 55 tons to 40 tons each.

"Light" forces, such as the 82nd Airborne and 101st Air Assault divisions, will receive new equipment to make them more lethal and mobile.

Some "heavy" divisions will shed weight with the Army developing a new family of vehicles called the Future Combat System (FCS).

These new 20-ton tanks would fit on the Air Force's C-130 tactical cargo plane and be designed to avoid enemy fire rather than being able to sustain hits. FCS development has just started and would not reach the field until 2010.

The Army is assembling the first lighter brigades at Fort Lewis. The congressional paper criticized this first step, saying, "The Army appears to be rushing into an expensive interim brigade solution without experimenting with a variety of equipment and operational designs which are compared and rated against established measures of effectiveness."

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