- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Can the Army reconcile its current — and future — force requirements? That’s the key question now at the center of an important debate concerning the Army’s budget.

At issue is an $867-million cut to the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization program recommended by the House Armed Services Committee. House authorizers are concerned that the Army cannot afford to pay for current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously pursuing FCS modernization. The Senate Armed Services Committee, by contrast, has proposed increasing the FCS budget by $115 million to accelerate key FCS modernization initiatives. The congressional appropriations committees have yet to act; and the Senate and the House still must reconcile their differences.

FCS is the Army’s principal modernization program. In fact, it is the only Army program that ranks in the Defense Department’s top 10 weapons acquisition programs. All of the other programs are ships and aircraft. That’s why FCS is so important: It involves not just one particular program, but the Army’s entire modernization strategy for the next quarter-century. Indeed, the Army is developing 14 new FCS manned and unmanned air and ground systems for 15 new FCS-equipped units or Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs). The entire Army, moreover, is being outfitted with more modern FCS capabilities, which will better empower and protect soldiers. This is necessary because the Army has not comprehensively modernized in decades. The service’s newest M1-Abrams tank is older than our soldiers. And some Army vehicles employ chasses that were developed well over 50 years ago, when Harry Truman was president.

Well, the world’s changed a lot since then. Technology’s changed a lot since then. And the Cold War is over. We need new and more modern equipment for our soldiers. This is especially true today because we now face an adaptive and resourceful enemy who is not standing still. This enemy is rapidly acquiring new technologies and new capabilities to frustrate and defeat us. Our soldiers see this dynamic at work every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, just as quickly as we can add armor to vehicles in Iraq, the enemy is developing new and more powerful Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that can rip through even our thickest armor plating. Military modernization therefore must be constant and unending, so that our soldiers and Marines retain a decisive military-technological edge over their enemies. The inadequacy of armor for vehicular protection in Iraq also points to the need for more innovative solutions, which transcend armor, to protect and empower our soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.

Fortunately the Army anticipated these challenges more than a decade ago and thus has a successful modernization strategy already in place. FCS is both the cornerstone of this strategy and an exemplary Department of Defense (DoD) weapons acquisition program. Indeed, FCS has met every planned program milestone, while remaining on cost and on schedule. In fact, as the most recent DoD Selected Acquisition Report shows, FCS costs have decreased slightly. FCS accounts for just 3.6 percent of the Army’s budget; and precursor FCS technologies already are saving soldiers’ lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, troops are using an early iteration of the FCS Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) to clear caves and bunkers, search buildings, cross minefields and defuse Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The prototype SUGV has saved lives and exemplifies the lifesaving capabilities that FCS will give soldiers.

Unfortunately, FCS will quickly unravel if Congress adopts the massive 25 percent cut ($867 million) recommended by the House Armed Services Committee. The Army simply cannot sustain additional cuts to its one overarching modernization program without seriously jeopardizing its ability to modernize. Congress already has cut FCS funding by a cumulative $825 million in the past three years; and an additional $3.4 billion was cut from the program for the next five years. More such cuts will result in the effective termination of FCS and the end of Army modernization as we know it.

Even with its proposed cuts, the House Armed Services Committee still recommends $2.8 billion for FCS modernization this year. That’s certainly a lot of money; however, the committee’s recommended cuts and regulatory proscriptions target specific parts of the FCS program, without which there can be no production of the very capabilities that make the Army’s modernization strategy so unique and valuable.

Systems engineering cuts target the FCS management structure, or Lead Systems Integrator (LSI), which is responsible for integrating all 14 FCS combat platforms via a common operating network. The LSI functions much as a general contractor does for a house under construction: It ensures that all of the various FCS systems work and work together. Modernizing without an LSI, therefore, would be like building a house with only subcontractors and no general contractor. In effect, the Army would procure nothing more than a fleet of empty hulls, almost totally devoid of the dominant (network-enabled) capabilities that are envisioned.

The Army, in other words, would get new equipment but absolutely old capabilities. As extensive analysis by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command has shown, a networked force is significantly more capable and survivable than a disjointed or non-networked force. The committee also would prohibit the Army from developing new manned ground vehicles until the FCS network first is fully developed and operationally proven. But the Army’s modernization strategy involves the concurrent development of the network and the vehicles, which are inextricably linked and mutually dependent.

Terminating FCS may save dollars in the short run, but at what expense to our troops and their long-term military readiness? As Army Chief of Staff General W. Casey has observed, the hard reality is that the cost of modernization is measured in dollars, while the cost of failing to modernize too often is measured in lives. We must make and sustain a modest investment in our ground forces (just 3.6 percent of the Army’s budget is earmarked for FCS modernization) so that our soldiers and Marines are prepared for every likely contingency now and in the future.

John R. Guardiano is a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and a civilian Pentagon consultant.

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