It's official: After $450 billion, the Army's quick-moving force of the future will be just about as slow as the one that's around right now.As I noted in June, one of the big ideas behind the Army's massive modernization effort, Future Combat Systems, was to make American troops more mobile able to get around the world in a matter of days or weeks, instead of the months that are needed now.The first step: slim down the service's cannon and armored vehicles. Today, it takes a gargantuan C-17 or C-5 transport plane to lug a single, 32-ton Paladin 155 mm howitzer. Army planners wanted the Paladin's next-gen replacement to weigh in at 19 tons or less so one could fit inside a much smaller C-130 transport plane, instead.After dancing around the issue for a couple of months, the Army has now delcared that neither the Paladin replacement nor any other FCS vehicle is going to fit into a C-130, according to Defense News' Greg Grant. And that "appears to abandon the fundamental rationale for FCS, which was intended to speed Army brigades to combat zones around the world within 96 hours."
The Army created the FCS concept about five years ago, after long delays in deploying a small air-ground task force to the Balkans raised questions about the services strategic relevance. Under Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Armys former chief of staff, the service scrambled for lighter armored vehicles to replace heavy Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles...[Army Secretary Francis] Harveys announcement appears to confirm that the Army does not have the technology to allow lighter vehicles to survive future anti-armor threats. This is in part a realization born of tough losses in Iraq, where 70-ton Abrams and Bradleys have been lost to roadside explosives and rocket-propelled grenades.But more than FCS' weight requirement has changed. As recently as last year, the program was slated to cost $92 billion. Then, suddenly, that estimate ballooned -- first to $127 billion, and next to $145 billion. Finally, we were told that this gargantuan sum would only pay for transforming a third or less of the Army.And what would be so different, after all that cash was spent? When the program first got started, the armored vehicles were not only going to be light -- they were going to be electric-powered. And they were going to fire laser weapons. Now, all of that has been dropped, understandably.But even the more basic changes have seemed near-impossible to pull off. The effort to get all soldiers on a common radio, for example, is facing massive restructuring, after the project's main contractor, Boeing, seems to have flushed $5 billion and three years worth of work down the toilet."The government has not seen sufficient evidence of the contractor teams understanding of the scale of integration required to ultimately achieve the program requirements," the Army told Boeing in an April letter. "Nor has the industry team displayed sufficient ability to estimate a cost and schedule baseline and rigorously manage to that baseline."In other words, the radio project has become slow and bloated. Just like the rest of FCS.