Army Moves Up FCS Program Schedule


From this morning's front page of

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Army will deliver some key technologies to ground forces in war zones three years ahead of schedule as part of its $160 billion Future Combat Systems program led by Boeing Co. and SAIC Inc.

Senior Army officials on June 26 said changes to the FCS program will expedite the use of high-tech equipment, including unmanned sensors and robotics, to infantry brigades fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2011.

Portions of FCS were expected to be used by armored units by 2014, but Army officials say the technology being developed is needed for the current war effort.

Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, said accelerating FCS and other complementary programs will help "filling the gaps" created by huge demands on the infantry brigades, while increasing the effectiveness and safety of U.S. soldiers.

Army officials maintain that while costs may rise in the short-term from the new schedule, they will balance out in future years and will not raise the program's overall price tag, which has been criticized by lawmakers.

Lead contractors Boeing and SAIC said the Army's decision to accelerate the FCS technologies shows confidence in the program's progress. FCS includes 14 manned and unmanned systems that are linked through a secure communications network.

On Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey briefed Defense Secretary Robert Gates on plans to restructure the program. Gates, who backed the shift, told reporters at a separate briefing Thursday that FCS "deserves support."

Dan Goure, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said it appears that the Army "didn't want to repeat the same mistake" as the Air Force in battling Gates publicly over F-22 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp. Gates also has previously raised doubts about the FCS program.

"Clearly this show that Gates is in command in a way few secretaries have been of the services," said Goure.

A few lawmakers lauded the Army's choice to deploy the latest technology to soldiers in the field. But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the air and land subcommittee, expressed concern that the new plan "may not allow for adequate testing of the equipment due to its very tight schedule."

The FCS program has long been criticized for remaining over budget and behind schedule. Earlier this year, the House Armed Services Committee voted to cut about $200 million from the Army's request of $3.6 billion for the FCS program in the fiscal 2009 budget.

"The Army has struggled to justify FCS for years, this is the latest evolution in this saga," said Nick Schwellenbach, an analyst for the Project on Government Oversight. "Yet at least now FCS may now end up helping troops currently deployed overseas."

-- Christian

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