On Again, Off Again FCS


It's ramping up to a thundering fusilade...

The FCS lobby is loading up the bombs, feeding the ammo belts and launching the salvos.

While the Pentagon's official position is that the FCS program will be radically restructured and the ground vehicle programs killed, Army and industry officials are acting as if "there's nothing to see here."

On Tuesday, FCS co-prime Boeing released a statement saying it had completed a "System of Systems Preliminary Design Review" and, guess what, it totally validated the FCS program and showed how much better the Army would be with the entire web of sensors, robots, ground vehicles and networks.

The SoS PDR is the most comprehensive review of the program to date. It validated that the designs for all FCS systems and subsystems, including the network, sensors, weapons and manned and unmanned vehicles, meet current requirements and will function as an integrated system of systems. The review proved that a family of networked systems will provide greater combat capabilities, including enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, across the full spectrum of conflict.

No way!? So all this talk about vulnerable vehicles, network bandwidth problems and schedule slips is baloney?

And our boy Greg Grant from DoD Buzz reports that Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, had a momentary bout of honesty when he told the SASC this week that he didn't ask for or want the FCS rejiggering but he'd been forced to back it.

Asked by SASC chair Senator Carl Levin whether he agreed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates decision to cancel the FCS vehicles, Casey said: I supported it; I did not agree with it. The fundamental point of disagreement, he said, was whether the vehicle design included sufficient protection against IEDs.

Oh, the boxes we get put in...

And yesterday the Pentagon announced a hastily-called together press conference for today where Army officials would help reporters understand the service's modernization program for Brigade Combat Teams. One wonders what they would have said had not the presser been cancelled this morning without prejudice.

I have always believed that the FCS program was far too complex to execute both technologically and fiscally as a total package but was tailor made as a sort of service "Skunk Works" that could develop the associated technologies for futuristic solutions to aging platforms and incrementally populate them within the force. It's as if you're working toward that Buck Rogers goal every day knowing full well you won't get there but that at least part of the fruits of your labors will be incorporated into forces who need them today.

The Army's going to need a replacement for the Bradley and M1 soon and as the development of the JLTV shows, there's lots of cutting edge solutions or just beyond the edge ones that could make the next set of ground vehicles more deadly to bad guys and safer for Joes. Or are we at a tipping piont here -- kind of like the one the Air Force is struggling with -- where it's all just a waste of money spent on manned systems. Is it close enough for us to envision robot ground vehicles pummeling enemy redoubts instead of manned ones in the next "generation?"

Maybe so...

-- Christian Lowe

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