FCS is too costly,
overly complex and potentially dangerous
By Major Daniel L. Davis, U.S. Army
The U.S. Army is the most modem, powerful and technically
advanced ground combat force on earth. In order to maintain its advantage over
potential foes well into the future, the Army created the concept of the Future
Combat Systems (FCS) family of vehicles.
But $4.6 billion and two years into the program, the FCS
effort is further from its target production date than when it started, and its
projected budget has ballooned from $92 billion to $125 billion (plus an
additional $35 billion needed to "network"
the various systems).
Far more troubling, however, is the growing realization
that the "system of systems,"
as it is called, will not perform some of the most critical functions for which
it was created and, if fielded in its present design, might lay the groundwork
for defeat of the U.S. Army on a future battlefield.
FCS, as currently designed, is fatally flawed. Before pumping more funds into the program, Army officials should consider an alternate transformation program with principal components already validated by combat experience.
CORE OF FUTURE FORCE
FCS, as described on the Army's Web site, is "a
joint networked system of systems. Future Combat Systems are connected via an
advanced network architecture that will enable levels of joint connectivity,
situational awareness and understanding, and synchronized operations heretofore
unachievable. ... FCS is the core building block of the Army's Future Force. FCS
will improve the strategic deployability and operational maneuver capability of
ground combat formations without sacrificing lethality or survivability."
The system of systems involved in the FCS program is
described as 18+ 1 + 1, which refers to 18 mechanical systems, plus the network,
plus the Soldier.
In theory, the concept that gave rise to FCS is impressive.
If its designers' goals could be achieved, FCS would combine eight manned
systems (a "light tank"
variant, troop carrier, command vehicle, four unmanned systems(armed robotic
vehicle, ground sensors, etc.), four classes of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and
two classes of smart munitions. These elements would be linked through a central
communications network providing broadband-caliber connectivity to enable maps,
photographs, graphics, enemy information and other data to be sent and received
in real time by every node in the network. Ostensibly, this unparalleled degree
of connectivity would allow American
forces to attack and destroy enemy positions from safe havens far beyond the
ability of the enemy to pinpoint or strike, reducing the need for robust armor
That's the theory. But it doesn't square with a recent, independent analysis of the system and ongoing combat experience.
At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in
March, Paul Francis, the Government Accountability Office's director for
acquisition and sourcing management, delivered a report on the state of FCS that
contained a number of findings highly critical of the program. Here are five of
* FCS' advanced network architecture faces significant technical challenges that threaten the schedule for fielding some future force capabilities and makes their ultimate ability to perform uncertain.
* An estimated 34 million lines of software code need to be generated for FCS (about double that for the Joint Strike Fighter).
* Only one of more than 50 advanced technologies needed for
FCS to function is mature.
* C-130 transport aircraft can carry FCS vehicles' original
projected weight of 19 tons only 5 percent of the time. (The Army recently
agreed to a weight of 24 tons for the vehicles, acknowledging that the 19-ton
goal is not technologically feasible.)
* We don't know enough about the program's variables to
conclude that the FCS program, as laid out, can be achieved, let alone completed
within a predictable time frame and budget constraints.
In light of these shortcomings, it seems prudent that Army
officials should search for alternatives to their FCS acquisition strategy. That
so many critical, high-tech components of the system remain unproven throws open
to question whether this system is the right one - at least right now - for the
Even if the system functioned perfectly, the network was
flawless and the vehicles light enough for air transport, FCS is being de-signed
specifically so it does not have to engage in close combat. With their lighter
armor, none of the manned systems will be capable of engaging in direct-fire
engagements with enemy tanks or withstanding coordinated assaults by ground
forces armed with anti-tank weapons.
Virtually all military analysts agree that future wars are
likely to be fought in urban terrain - in cities. Even if we have perfect
knowledge of where enemy forces are and which buildings they are holding, there
will still be a requirement to send in ground troops to engage them.
What would happen if an FCS-equipped force were directed to
fight in a large, Baghdad-like city in a future war? This hypothetical question
can be answered quite authoritatively.
In 1995, Russian forces moved on the Chechen capital city of Grozny. The Russians were equipped with T80 and T72 tanks and BMP armored troop carriers. The defenders of Grozny were equipped with a handful of tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, but primarily with hand grenades, AK47 assault weapons and variants of rocket-propelled grenade anti-tank weapons
PIC of FCS
Systems vehicles will be lightly armored because they are not designed for close
combat - a notion that may be unrealistic."
July 2005 Armed Forces Journal, page 37
An article in the Summer 1999 issue of Parameters, by
Timothy L. Thomas, described what happened when lightly armored tanks and
personnel carriers engaged in urban combat against an enemy equipped with even
"The first unit
to penetrate to the city center was the 1st battalion of the 131st "Maikop"
Brigade, composed of some 1,000 Soldiers. By January 3, 1995, the brigade had I
lost nearly 800 men, 20 of 26 tanks, and 102 of 120 armored vehicles."
Compare that with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division
report of its 2003 combat operations in Iraq: "The M1 Abrams tank led the attacking columns of US. forces through urban
areas and was successful in producing a strong shock effect against defending
forces. M1s and M2s were attacked with small arms, BMP 30mm and 73mm cannons,
T72 125mm rounds, numerous ADA [air-defense artillery] systems and
rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) without suffering the catastrophic loss of a
single crew member."
The Russian brigade lost 800 men in three days of urban
PIC of Chinese Type 96 Heavy tanks
Nearly all Chinese tanks are equipped with a cannon systems
that can penetrate the hull of the vehicles planned for the Army's Future Combat
in contrast, according to the 3rd Infantry
Division's after-action report, in almost a year the U.S. unit lost none as a
result of penetration of a tank because of the level of armor protection on the
Four countries - China, North Korea, Iran and Syria -
present the most likely potential threats to the United States. Of these, China
is the most dangerous and capable.
Any combat system we develop must be able to withstand the
risk posed by the greatest potential threat we face. Therefore, let's consider
how FCS would measure up against threats posed by China.
If U.S. Soldiers in
an FCS-equipped force were directed to intervene in a war between China and
Taiwan, they would likely be defeated by Chinese ground forces. This
conclusion takes into consideration the impressive benefits the U.S. force would
gain from air and naval support Although this assertion is certain to raise some
eyebrows, a recent analysis of the capabilities of an FCS-equipped force and the
force China will likely have in the near future reaches this disturbing
According to Richard Fisher, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, China continues to make improvements in its conventional forces that are specifically designed to counter the advantages that would otherwise accrue to an FCS-equipped force.
"While we are
building lighter and more mobile armored vehicles, China is building heavier and
stronger armor", Fisher points out "According to government study, the
Chinese should have over 1,200 T96 tanks operational by the end of this year.
The T96 is a vast improvement to the T72 in terms of both armor protection and
Virtually every tank in the Chinese inventory packs a
cannon system that can penetrate the hull of every vehicle contemplated under
FCS. If we had to engage China, we would need to load the front end of the
ground force with the Abrams tanks and
Bradley fighting vehicles; it would be
suicidal to attack with an FCS-style force.
But what about the stated advantage of FCS using standoff,
extended-range engagements made possible by the new information-sharing network?
Chinese are most interested in is defeating the 7th Fleet," according
to Fisher. "To win, they don't have
to destroy the fleet, but to blind it. To do that, they currently have
operational SRBMs [short-range ballistic missiles] with non-nuclear,
electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] warheads. If they blanket an area over the fleet,
it could devastate their electronics and communications. If they've got 'weaponized'
SRBMs, then they've likely also got EMP mortars and grenades."
The significance of this observation for an FCS equipped force is that if an EMP device was fired near the central node, the entire network could be wiped out.
This is not an insignificant consideration. As Brig. Gen.
Charles A Cartwright, deputy director for the Army Research, Development and
Engineering Command, pointed out in a New York Times article in March, "If
[the FCS network] does not work, the Future Combat System will fail."
If FCS fails in combat, men will die.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to FCS - one that is
far less expensive, more capable and directly engineered to meet evolving
threats from potential adversaries. It's not some new armored vehicle, though;
rather, it's a call to embrace
July 2005 Armed Forces Journal, page 38
warfighting concept that closely parallels some of the
organizational developments we see in Iraq.
First publicly advanced in retired Col. Douglas A.
Macgregor's 1997 book "Breaking the
Phalanx" (published years before the FCS concept was developed), an
alternative "system of systems" solution exists in the equipment
troops use today.
Virtually all of the Army's major fighting platforms either already incorporate or can be upgraded with the latest technological developments. More significantly, they would derive most of their new utility and effectiveness primarily from being cast in new organizations designed to maximize their combat effectiveness.
Under Macgregor's plan, the Army would immediately
transform its fighting formations from the brigades, divisions and corps we have
used since World Wars I and II to "battlegroups"
of 3,000 to 5,000 Soldiers and standing joint task force organizations. Not
totally unlike the Unit of Action and Unit of Engagement concept being pursued
by the Army today. Macgregor's plan would initially incorporate weapons systems
that are proving their worth on battlefields today: M1 tanks, M2/3 Bradley
fighting vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, space-based platforms, attack
helicopters, indirect-fire systems, etc. And, yes, there would even be room for Strykers. [EDITOR: BS. We have no room or need for road bound trucks
moving infantry into roadside bomb ambushes]
There just wouldn't be any expectation that, at least for a
few decades, these tried-and-true fighting systems might be replaced by a "do-all"
FCS family. Funds that are being pumped into the FCS program would be used,
instead, to develop the revolutionary fighting systems that will, one day,
replace those being used in Iraq.
A year ago, during testimony before the House Armed
Services Committee, Macgregor explained how his original plan could be adapted
to meet the Army's current needs: "In
a period when rapid obsolescence is a high risk, 'wildcatting' with new [weapon
system] designs, even aggressively courting failure with limited numbers of
prototypes is absolutely necessary. The Army transformational methodology should
be: Look forward to the next technology we can exploit that will
help. Field it incorporate weapon systems that in limited quantities to the
force. Play with it. Test it. Develop new operational, organizational and
doctrinal modes for it. Feed that back into building the next based platforms,
capability [again and again]. This means going through a rigorous process of
experimentation in order to reach the goal of sustained military superiority
can exploit that will help. Field it incorporate weapon systems that in limited quantities to the force. Play with it. Test it. Develop new operational, organizational and doctrinal modes for it. Feed that back into building the next based platforms, capability [again and again]. This means going through a rigorous process of experimentation in order to reach the goal of sustained military superiority."
At this point you're probably wondering, if this plan is so
good, why wasn't it implemented instead of FCS years ago? There isn't a simple
answer, but its rejection was probably due, at least partly, to a clash of
Macgregor can be quite pointed in his criticisms of those
who disagree with his positions and of those who he felt lacked the knowledge
needed to carry out the duties of their positions, particularly general
officers. That isn't the way to advance in the officer ranks, as Macgregor
But recall that, in early 1991 when so many others were
warning of large numbers of American casualties in the pending war to expel Iraq
from Kuwait, Macgregor correctly predicted that American armor would quickly cut
through the Iraqis and crush them. Also, according to Rowan Scarborough's book
"Rumsfeld's War," well
before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Macgregor correctly predicted that
fewer combat troops would be needed than in earlier operations. Further, and
more critically, Macgregor asserted that the answers to stability in post-Saddam
Iraq were to avoid disbanding the Iraqi army, and to immediately appoint Iraqis
to the interim government. In short, Macgregor has been right before.
So we should pay particular attention to his testimony
before Congress in July 2004, in which he outlined the shortcomings of FCS -
observations that were echoed the following March by the GAO's Francis.
Perhaps the best response to transforming the force that
will fight our nation's future wars involves adopting ideas raised in the past.
We should acknowledge inherent weaknesses of the current FCS development program
and set it aside as a system. In its place, we should explore the best ways of
integrating the viable tenets of Macgregor's ideas with several of the
promising, truly revolutionary developments in the FCS program, such as the
unmanned air and ground sensors and the advanced defensive suites being designed
for some vehicles. To get the ball rolling, Congress should commission a study
on Macgregor's ideas to accurately and impartially evaluate their potential
worth in light of contemporary challenges.
It wouldn't be surprising to find that Macgregor's ideas, perhaps like the man, were just a bit ahead of their time. .
Maj. Daniel L. Davis is an Army armor officer who fought in the Battle of 73 Easting, the largest tank battle of Operation Desert Storm
July 2005 Armed Forces Journal, page 39
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