ARMY SHIELDING "FUTURE COMBAT"

There's been a lot of noise in recent weeks about the fighter planes and aircraft carriers the Pentagon may or may not be cutting. But lost in the clamour is a simple, and strange, fact: one of the programs considered most likely to be pruned back has somehow avoided the budget axe. And now, Defense News reports, the Army is moving to "build a fence" around its gargantuan, $127 billion modernization program, Future Combat Systems, so it doesn't get cut in the upcoming tussle over Defense Department funding.NLOS_cannon.jpgFuture Combat Systems, or FCS, is a sprawling effort by the Army to turn itself Army into a quicker, better-networked, robot-reliant force. Since it was introduced back in the Clinton years, FCS has been reconfigured more than once, with deadlines pushed back and funding scraped away."In December, the Office of the Secretary of Defense recommended cutting $1.5 billion from the FCS program each year from 2006 to 2011," Defense News' Megan Scully notes. But instead of trimming that money, "typically considered the low-hanging fruit in the Pentagon budget," the Army is looking to make up the shortfall "largely by cutting civilian personnel.""To significantly cut its payroll," the magazine says, "the Army may have little choice but to fill less than half of the slots it creates when it converts military posts to civilian positions, and may only be able to replace half of the civilians who retire."The Army will also try to save FCS by relying on supplemental funding bills, meant to pay for the war in Iraq. The Army could get more than $66 billion from such a measure when it passes Congress -- which it almost certainly will, since no Senator or Represenative wants to be seen as keeping soldiers in the field from getting the gear they need."Some officials and military analysts said they are wary of the supplemental funding bills because they are not guaranteed annually," Defense News observes. "Still, the Armys future plans hinge on having Congress authorize supplemental money for years to come."

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