It's not often that internal service debates about acquisition programs get aired in public, but the struggle to find the right path forward after the wrenching decision to kill the Manned Ground Vehicle has clearly galvanized Army officers in a fashion not seen in some time.
The DoD Buzz story, "Army Planning for Last War" elicited several comments by persons with .mil email addresses who included the time-honored "views expressed are personal..." disclaimer, and there were half a dozen posts to very recent FCS stories that appear to have come from serving officers. We also got several comments posted to the story, "It's Official FCS Cancelled."
Perhaps the most succinct -- and telling -- statement put the Army's quandary in terms Defense Secretary Robert Gates would appreciate. The major argues the service faces a zero-sum game forcing it to choose between modernizing existing equipment or to buy FCS. "The current combat systems are showing age and worn out because they are experiencing higher than expected or programmed usage rate. Modernizing these legacy systems with new or better engines, armor, and weapons will allow the Army to maintain its current capabilities in a very cost effective manner," wrote Maj. Jay Cha. "In a resource-constrained environment with competing priorities, it is unthinkable to continue to fund the programs with delays that may be headed the wrong direction, while the proven current combat systems are falling apart due to age and wear." The major's conclusion: "Unless the defense budget is increased in order to fund the FCS program, the proven current combat systems need to be utilized as long as they are capable of meeting the needs of the Army."
So much for a rejiggered combat system that might look something like FCS, with new vehicles capable of traveling together at the same speeds and having a highly common logistics tail.
Maj. Sebastian Edwards writes that systems such as FCS aren't needed because we will face hybrid wars. "If we want to know what future threats will look like, we need look no further than the past and present. The Gulf War excluded, the conflicts involving the U.S. military since the Vietnam war include actions in Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others. Notably missing from this list are the types on conventional force- on-force wars that the FCS and F-22 systems were built based on," Edwards writes. On top of that, he thinks that the US will face many more such battles as we have taken on in Iraq and Afghanistan: "Globalization, resource scarcity, proliferation of weapons of mass effect, and the youth bulge and urbanization in underdeveloped states all point to future conflicts sparked by terrorism, failed regimes, or rogue states."
Also, Edwards argues that Gates was right not only to kill the MGV but is right to tackle the F-22. He says Gates "desires to go back to the drawing board to re-analyze future threats because acquisition decisions made 30 years ago are irrelevant today, yet the [acquisition] process lacks the flexibility to quickly adapt and modify those decisions. For example, in scrapping the FCS vehicle, Sec Gates stated that the Army will design a new vehicle from scratch after careful research and analysis."
Finally, Maj. Aaron Gorrie praises the Manned Ground Vehicle cut because he believes this will help increase the service's focus on the FCS network. "If there is one portion of FCS that the Army must do correctly, it is the proper construction and implementation of the network," Gorrie writes. In addition, he urges the Army to ensure that both the service and the companies involved train maintainers: "I hope that those responsible for fielding and implementing these systems understand that not only do the individual operators need to be trained on these systems/technologies, but the leaders, planners, and most importantly the maintainers of these systems must understand all facets in order to implement and use them to there fullest capacity." . It's interesting that everyone who posted, with the exception of one Army captain, is a major. And they all stand with Gates, his vision for the near future and his analysis of what is needed. Some might read this and conclude that the military put these men up to the postings. But almost 15 years of covering the military leads me to doubt it because the US Army and the civilian defense leadership are not that effective at manipulation at this level. Let's hope that the level of passion and commitment that must drive an officer to take such dramatic public stands is a part of the new Army, the force battered and rebuilt through the struggle and sacrifice of close to a decade of seemingly unending combat.