Defense Secretary Robert Gates is doing the rounds at the services’ war colleges this week and today he spoke at the U.S. Army War College, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. There, he explained his reasons for cancelling the vehicle part of the Army’s prized FCS modernization program – the vehicles were too lightly armored to survive in future wars. He also said that all of the money that would have gone to build the cancelled vehicles will be “protected” in the budget to fund an entirely new vehicle modernization program; that amounts to roughly $90 billion.
Gates said the Army will be in the lead in the “irregular and hybrid campaigns of the future” and so must have a new, modernized fleet of combat vehicle to replace legacy systems. He plans to re-launch the new vehicle program by 2011: “there will be substantial money in the FY10 budget to get started and to make sure this happens.” He told the service to re-evaluate vehicle requirements and technology in light of lessons learned from combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates said both Army Chief Gen. George Casey and Army Secretary Peter Geren disagreed with his decision to cancel the FCS vehicles.
He criticized the Army leadership for sticking with the original FCS vehicle design which was intended to field a lightweight family of armored vehicles that could be rapidly flown to global hot spots. That was before insurgents in Iraq demonstrated the lethality of crudely constructed roadside bombs that shredded lightly armored vehicles. The proliferation of inexpensive anti-armor missiles of increased precision is also a troubling development.
“The premise behind the design of these vehicles was that lower weight, greater fuel efficiency, and, above all, near-total situational awareness, would compensate for less heavy armor – a premise that I believe was belied by the close-quarters combat, urban warfare, and increasingly lethal forms of ambush that we’ve seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and are likely to see elsewhere as other adversaries probe for and find ways to turn our strengths against us,” Gates said.
"It was either Secretary Geren or General Casey who pointed out within the last 18 months or so, "Gee, the infantry fighting vehicle has a flat bottom and is 18 inches off the ground" -- reflecting no lessons learned," he said. The Army then tried to fit a blast deflecting V-shaped hull onto the vehicles. "As they began working on the infantry fighting vehicle and looking at the lessons learned, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they began adding armor to the infantry fighting vehicle. And all of a sudden, it was looking like 34 tons, 36 tons, 38 tons on a 30-ton chassis. That seems to me to be a problem."
Gates said parts of the FCS program, such as the Warfighter Information Network, have already demonstrated “adaptability” and “relevance” and will be fielded. He said he intends the QDR strategic review to examine the Army’s mix of heavy and light forces and determine whether shifts are needed. “This will be the first QDR able to fully incorporate the numerous lessons learned on the battlefield these last few years. Lessons about what mix of hybrid tactics future adversaries, both state and non-state actors, are likely to pursue.”
“We have to be prepared for the wars we are most likely to fight – not just the wars we’ve traditionally been best suited to fight, or threats we conjure up from potential adversaries who also have limited resources. And as I’ve said before, even when considering challenges from nation-states with modern militaries, the answer is not necessarily buying more technologically advanced versions of what we built – on land, sea, or in the air – to stop the Soviets during the Cold War.”