The Future Combat Systems (FCS) is the program to turn the Army into a lighter, more agile fighting force. Don’t ask me why the Pentagon is so enamored of the word “agile” but it is. Conceptually, the FCS is a group of weapons systems whose actions are integrated through a state of the art information network. Anyway the FCS was Donald Rumsfeld’s baby, and right there that should tell you what a bad idea it was likely to be.
The FCS has been plagued by development problems. An April 10, 2008 GAO report noted that it would be difficult for the Army to show for a 2009 go/no-go review that it had firm requirements and mature technologies for the program, elements which should have been in place back in 2003 when the FCS first entered its development phase. Only 2 of 44 critical technologies for the FCS are currently considered mature by best practice standards. Putting the cart before the horse, requests for funds for production of core systems are scheduled for February 2010 within months of the go/no-go review but before the program’s critical design review. Cost estimates of $160.9 billion for the FCS remain about the same this year as last year but this was accomplished by reducing the number of FCS components from 18 to 14. The information network the core of the FCS is years away from demonstration. Software code (an indicator of cost containment) has increased to 95.1 million lines, triple what was envisioned in 2003. As a result, delays and costs cascade through the program. Contractors are unable to finalize designs because they are unsure what the final requirements will be. Consequently, changes and fixes will have to be made later in the process when it will cost a great deal more to make them.
Rumsfeld (see item 207) said, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Well, this is that army for a later time. What is its purpose? What is it designed to do? A fast, light force is good for going in and shooting a place up. A few observations can be made about this. First, we already have such a force. It is called the Marines. Second, such a force would not be good at holding territory or combating an insurgency that can melt into the civilian population. As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, these require larger and heavier forces. Third, most of the advantages of a highly mobile force would be lost in a conflict with North Korea where the battle space is confined. The same could be said for a conflict involving Taiwan. Fourth, ground wars against nuclear weapons states like China, Russia, or Pakistan are likely to be avoided by all concerned because of their foreseeable and catastrophic consequences. Fifth, FCS forces or even current army forces could be used against Iran, but it is too large a country to occupy and as said above even limited areas would be difficult to hold in the face of a hostile population.
There are only two uses I can see for the FCS. One would be in international peacekeeping in places like Darfur. Somehow I don’t think this is what Rumsfeld had in mind. The other is to defend oil fields of allied states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE against outside threats. It should be pointed out that this is what we have been doing with our conventional forces for the last few decades in any case.
So foul-ups and cost overruns aside, it looks like we are building another army superfluous at best and ill-suited at worst for the military challenges we are likely to face in the future. In that sense, the FCS is a very Bushian creation indeed.