UPDATED: Click Here for Chiarelli's Modernization Briefing
The Army seems to be making more detailed and rational noises about what kind of modernization effort it will pursue after the cancellation of FCS, according to a congressional aide and a detailed read of a briefing by Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff.
A congressional aide familiar with Chiarelli's briefing said it contained more promising efforts than had been apparent so far. In particular the service's decision to push development of the son of FCS out several years attracted praise from this aide. According to the vice chief's charts, design review would not occur earlier than early fiscal 2012, with prototype deliveries expected in fiscal 2015. The Army had been speaking of production in five to seven years. Now it's talking about a seven to nine year effort.
The biggest strategic challenge -- which many observers wondered if the Army understood earlier -- is "balance modernization vs. personnel costs," as slide seven says in Chiarelli's 10 Sept. presentation at an Institute for Land Warfare breakfast. The key parameters for the program's requirements are to improve survivability and to give the Army a "decisive advantage" over any enemy. The "most critical component" of any such modernization effort is the network -- not the platform. The new three-pronged approach will include capability packages for brigade combat teams, the network and, lastly, the vehicle strategy.
As we first reported, the Army will pursue the capability packages in two year chunks. They will first immediately "incorporate" MRAP into the force and get rid of the M113. Then they will reset and shed Bradleys. After that, around 2017 they get to the Ground Combat Vehicle, successor to the FCS Manned Ground Vehicle. While pursuing all this, the Army will also improve the Stryker, Abrams tanks and the Paladin force.
As the new vehicle is designed and built, the Army will bear in mind that "technology is changing too fast to allow us to field equipment in traditional 10-15 year cycles." So basically the new system will not come out until the end of a second Obama administration (should there be one), giving the Army plenty of wriggle room between now and then.
But the Army's nascent plan raises some basic questions.
With a force primarily dependent on legacy systems -- which now includes MRAPs -- where is the deployable force that can range across the battlefield at speed and with lethality? Or has the Army decided deployability simply must be superseded by survivability? As Chiarelli notes, "We're not saying this vehicle has to fit in a C-130." But the US has learned time and again that its toughest regular troops -- the 82nd Airborne and the 101st -- may be able to get to a fight quickly and be relatively well armed, but they don't have much to fight from once they get there.
How do the Marines fit in all of this?
Where does the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle fit in this plan? Do the MRAPs replace this promising vehicle?
Chiarelli answers some of these issues in a section titled "Countering Our Critics." (Buzz readers will recognize most of the criticisms as they come from some of our stories.) He says the service will "field what's available, affordable and technologically feasible..." and will build a "versatile platform capable of operating in different complex terrain environments."