- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003


The Pentagon has approved a $15 billion project to build a network of high-tech tanks and surveillance drones as the heart of the Army’s effort to transform itself into a faster, lighter, more lethal force.

The “future combat system” (FCS) would included remote-controlled drones to prowl the air and the ground, looking for enemies and carrying soldiers’ gear. Lumbering tanks and armored troop carriers would be replaced by vehicles that, in some cases, would weigh less than a third as much as current models.

A computer system will link all the vehicles and other weapons with soldiers and their commanders to give the troops better awareness of an entire battle as it progresses.

“FCS will give our soldiers an overwhelming advantage in future operations because they will be able to see first, understand first, act first and finish the fight,” said Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell Jr., a top Army weapons-buying official.

The $14.9 billion phase of the project announced yesterday covers development and testing of the system. An initial decision on whether to build the system for the Army — which would mean tens of billions more for military contractors — is scheduled for 2008.

Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. will team up to manage the “future combat system” project and will be paid about a third of the proceeds, or about $5 billion, said Dennis Muilenburg, a Boeing vice president in charge of the project.

The rest of the money will go to other defense contractors who will provide the armored vehicles, computer systems and other gear.

Plans call for an Army battalion — a unit of about 700 soldiers — to be fully equipped with the new system by the end of 2010. Another five battalions would be equipped with the system by 2015.

The system would replace 70-ton M-1 Abrams tanks with 24-ton tanks; the 33-ton M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles would be replaced by 22-ton armored vehicles. The new vehicles will be designed to be carried by the C-130, the military’s ubiquitous propeller-driven cargo plane, which can land on short, unpaved landing strips. The vehicles would be built on a common chassis to make maintenance and repairs easier.

General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams tanks, and United Defense Industries, which makes Bradley vehicles, are part of a team that’s designing the new family of vehicles. Contracts to make the new vehicles are among 23 subcontracts to be awarded by the end of September.

Army officials said Monday they hope to smoothly tie the Army’s network into the rest of the U.S. military to avoid communication problems.

The Boeing team will help the Army decide which companies should get the contracts. The Pentagon and Boeing have set up a system to keep the overall management of the future combat system separate from other Boeing functions so the aerospace and defense giant can bid on subcontracts.

Mr. Muilenburg said Boeing had bid on some of the 23 subcontracts, but said he could not say which ones because all bids were confidential.

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