Back to the future

The future of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, from strictly a technical standpoint, would seem fairly certain at this point. But as Kevin Fogarty reports this month (Page 12), and as we’ve reported previously, the project’s detractors have plenty of valid reasons to doubt its success. Part of the problem is that FCS was originally devised for a type of combat unlike what the Army has seen in the past seven years, based on the experience of the 1991 Gulf War.

But the biggest problem isn’t with FCS’ technology: It’s that the project is viewed as a single procurement, a single system of systems, rather than the collection of projects that it really is. In a response to the Government Accountability Office’s recent criticisms of FCS, the Army pointed this out: “Many critics of the FCS program, including the GAO, continue to view the FCS program through a single system procurement prism that equates the program to a platform rather than a family of systems with an integrated network.”

The way the procurement has been run for much of its history has encouraged that view. And with the Army looking at replacing large numbers of systems much sooner than it had anticipated because of wear and tear from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the FCS project’s big budget makes it an attractive target.

In fact, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and the House Appropriations Committee seem focused on pumping more money into FCS in the near term to deliver short-term results.

There’s a major problem with that approach, one that critics of FCS already know. By rushing to fix the issues of the current conflicts the Army is embroiled in, the military could face the same problem again in just a few years that it has often faced — a military built to fight the last war instead of the next.

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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