Top Army Brain: FCS, "Transformation" Wrong Path



Two distinct groups are emerging in the Army with quite different views on the nature of future wars the U.S. is likely to fight and the decisions the service should make about future force structure and weapons. The first group is the Title 10 side that urges the Army to embrace the troubled Future Combat Systems program and new operational concepts built around dominant battlefield intelligence. The other side is represented by officers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who think future wars will resemble the messy reality of the current ones.

In a new paper, Army Col. H.R. McMaster, definitely a member of the messy war group, calls for abandoning so-called transformation, which is intellectually rooted in the idea of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). McMaster, of 73 Easting and Tal Afar fame, is a highly influential soldier-scholar who is currently putting together a brain trust for Gen. David Petraeus to review U.S. policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

McMaster says the widely held vision of a revolution in warfare, of light, agile high-tech forces destroying an adversary with pin-point precision weapons fired from stand-off distances, ran headlong into reality in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be a superlative stretch of reality to describe the brutal fighting in those wars as anything remotely revolutionary. Both have featured much less high-tech and much more high-firepower in fierce firefights, not at the stand off ranges preferred by U.S. soldiers but in engagements where combatants were separated by only a few feet.

He says the U.S. will fight future wars against armed groups that employ tactics and strategies similar to those it is facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Armys legacy formations have figured prominently in the current fight and will again in future wars. He criticizes analysts and officers - calling out Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap and Lt. Gen. David Deptula - who advocate a return to 1990s thinking where high-tech surveillance, air power and precision weaponry deliver effects against the enemy from long range in an effort to avoid costly and protracted boots on the ground efforts. Those who have bought into the RMA orthodoxy make the mistake of defining future conflict as we might prefer it to be, McMaster says.

McMaster really lets it fly at both Air Force leaders who have been very vocal in pushing the notion that airpower is Americas true asymmetric advantage. Deptula and Dunlap fail to consider the enemys ability to react and adopt countermeasures that complicate our ability to remotely deliver effects. One wonders what kind of remotely delivered capability might secure people from terrorists living in their midst, reconstitute a police force, or interdict concealed vehicle bombs aimed at crowded marketplaces. Moreover, McMaster says, future adversaries, such as China, are developing weapons designed specifically to take out U.S. surveillance and IT assets

McMaster takes a big swipe at his own service and the $200 billion Future Combat Systems program that was originally intended to supply the Army with a new family of lightweight armored vehicles but has since dissolved into a collection of some promising and many not so promising technologies. McMaster says recent combat experience shows, we should reject the notion that lightness, ease of deployment, and reduced logistical infrastructure are virtues in and of themselves. What a force is expected to achieve once it is deployed is far more important than how quickly it can be moved and how easily it can be sustained.

The FCS program likes to show a briefing slide that illustrates the long line of fuel tankers required to support the gas guzzling Abrams tank and the much fewer needed to support the future FCS vehicle. McMaster points out the weakness of that pitch. Sure, a 30 ton FCS vehicle with new, more efficient engine technologies will cut down on the logistical tail compared to Abrams tanks. But what do you get at the end of that long line of fuel tankers? With the Abrams, arguably the worlds best main battle tank with an impenetrable frontal arc and unmatched firepower. With FCS, you get a vehicle, with armor no thicker than that of a Bradley, that depends on situational awareness to survive an engagement.

McMaster says that despite six years of combat experience, the Army continues to embrace the flawed doctrinal concepts and a continued fixation on futuristic experiments that say FCS equipped soldiers will have near perfect situational awareness and will be able to promptly dispatch enemies without engaging in close combat. Thats a dangerous road to go down, he warns, that could end up costing soldiers lives. The gulf between the Armys new warfighting concepts and the lessons coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan demands a thorough review of Army organization.

McMaster says theory continues to triumph over practice because of the tangled web of relationships between defense contractors, the DoD, Congress, and think tanks that often lend legitimacy to flawed concepts. He says the military should stop outsourcing its intellectual responsibilities, and defense contractors should not produce and test operational concepts that can later be used to justify the purchase of their systems or products.

-- Greg Grant

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