Army to overhaul modernization strategy by the fall

Officials hope for continued support from lawmakers and Defense Department leaders as they redo plans for upgrading equipment and battlefield networks.

Top Army officials on Wednesday said they were concerned they will not get adequate support from lawmakers and Pentagon leaders as they retool the service's battlefield modernization program.

The Army has requested $2.9 billion in funding for its modernization program in fiscal 2010, but during a press conference, Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, Army's deputy chief of staff (G-8), said he was "very concerned" about sustaining support for the program in Congress. The new program comes in the wake of the service's decision earlier this year to cancel the ground vehicle portion of the $160 billion Future Combat Systems project.

Speakes added that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed support for a new modernization program, but said Gates "told us to get it right" if the Army wants to keep its funding for the upgrade.

Army officials plan to develop operational requirements for the new modernization program by September, according to Speakes. The program will include a new line of ground combat vehicles to replace those planned under FCS.

In its version of the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee required the service to submit a report by Sept. 1 defining the Army's new ground combat vehicle program, explaining all alternatives considered, and providing initial cost and schedule estimates.

Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, principal military deputy and assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the service has not given up on the concept of using a powerful network to ensure all battlefield systems work together in the new modernization program. The battlefield network was a core component of FCS.

Rickey Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (forward), said the Army will assess network capabilities as it develops operational requirements for a new modernized force. But, during an interview with Nextgov, Smith emphasized that once the requirements are established, officials then must determine what kind of network the service can afford.

The Army also must decide what communication capabilities to provide maneuver units, and assess how far down the command chain to push those systems. The radios that power battlefield networks take up space and will place a power load on the new ground combat vehicle, and Smith said that in his opinion, the new vehicles should be designed to accommodate that.

In addition, the service must ensure new radios and network equipment are compatible with older systems, a challenge that could be resolved in part through software, according to Smith.

While the Army will spend the summer refining its modernization strategy, Speakes said upgrading equipment and systems is imperative. The service has made five modernization attempts during the past 20 years, he noted.