Army touts ability to adjust FCS to changing threats

Recent adjustments, including a new focus on infantry brigades, have helped assuage some congressional concerns.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said today that he expects the service will continue to make changes to Future Combat Systems, the cornerstone of its modernization efforts, to better position the Army to counter changing threats. Speaking at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting, Geren said the Army's current plans for the program are a "good way ahead now." But any long-term transformation program like FCS is "going to evolve as the threat evolves," the former Texas House member said. "That is the nature of the beast."

Comment on this article in The Forum.In June, the Army announced that it would focus on fielding FCS first to infantry brigades, marking a major departure from initial plans that called for sending the first batch of war-fighting technologies to heavy units. Infantry brigades, which have been used heavily in Iraq and Afghanistan, will begin receiving pieces of FCS in 2011-- three years earlier than planned. FCS is a system of manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles tied together by a complex electronic network.

Both Geren and Army Chief of Staff George Casey emphasized in comments today that the Army remains committed to the FCS program, the largest and most expensive development program in the service's history. FCS has been met with some criticism on Capitol Hill, particularly within the House where several key lawmakers have raised concerns about the cost and feasibility of the program.

But it appears that the Army's recent changes to the program, especially its focus on infantry brigades, have helped assuage some congressional concerns. Last month, Congress approved a spending bill that increases the Pentagon's $3.6 billion request for FCS by $26 million, marking the first time in years the program's budget has not been trimmed.

Meanwhile, the Army is evaluating its legacy force, with leaders now in discussions over how to handle a fleet of tanks and other vehicles that has been in service for decades. Casey said one of the toughest decisions before the Army is to decide when it should stop updating its older systems. The goal, Casey said, is to build a force that is affordable and able to counter the asymmetric threat posed by terrorists and insurgencies.

Any move to prioritize the Army's future programs over its current fleet could run into stiff opposition on Capitol Hill. Last week, Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee expressed concerns about any efforts to divert funding for older systems, such as the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle, to pay for FCS.

"We feel that reducing investments in these programs, which constitute the core of the Army's armored combat vehicle fleet, before the Army even begins to test realistic prototypes of FCS vehicles in the 2012-2015 timeframe, could place our future forces at risk if achieving the FCS program's aggressive schedule is delayed, or FCS manned vehicles cost more than is now forecast," they wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Gates.

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