Army chief to shift new vehicle program into high gear

Army Chief of Staff George Casey said today he hopes to begin fielding new manned ground vehicles in five to seven years, an ambitious schedule considering the service is only starting to design the fleet. The vehicles would replace the vehicle portion of the Future Combat Systems program, which Defense Secretary Gates canceled last month amid concerns the Army did not alter the program to take into account lessons learned from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I ultimately could not convince him [Gates] that we had taken enough of the lessons that we learned from the current fight and incorporate it into the vehicle program," Casey told reporters after testifying before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "I thought we had, he thought we hadn't." In particular, Gates has said he was worried that the FCS vehicles would not provide adequate protection against roadside bombs.

The Pentagon's fiscal 2010 budget request provides about $3 billion for the FCS program, down $633 million from the amount previously projected for next year. Most of the money would be used to develop the network and other technologies associated with the sprawling high-technology program. Casey said his goal of fielding the vehicles in five to seven years would keep the program largely on track. The Army had not planned to field significant numbers of the FCS vehicles until 2015.

The service will report back to Gates with a plan for the design by Labor Day, then spend about a year drawing up a request for proposals. The service could award a contract six months after that, Casey indicated. Because of the compressed schedule, Casey signaled that the Army will have to rely on existing technologies and will "cast a wide net" in its search, including exploring vehicles used by other militaries.

Despite his disagreement with Gates over the vehicles, Casey said he saw the cancellation of the FCS vehicles as "an opportunity because we can go forward with a clean slate, build a vehicle that has the support of the department and Congress."

Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters the service is "working through all the legalities" of canceling the original vehicles planned for FCS. Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. are the so-called lead systems integrators overseeing the entire program, while General Dynamics Corp. and BAE Systems had been tapped to build the FCS manned ground vehicles.