Flawed Combat System  

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.


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 protection

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 them: 

* 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 future Army. 


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           



"Future Combat 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 "basic" RPG-7s: 

"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 combat; 


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 Systems. 


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 fighting platforms. 


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 conclusion. 

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 firepower." 

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? 

"What the 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." 

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 personalities. 

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 ultimately found. 

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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