Senior Army officials are bemoaning a $206 million cut to their premier transformation program in the recently enacted fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill. The cut, according to Army Secretary Pete Geren, would have a significant effect on the Future Combat Systems and ultimately drive up costs on the transformation program, now estimated to cost $160 billion.
"I can't tell you with certainty today, but once we got word of the $200 million cut, we have gone to work to figure out how to minimize the impact," Geren told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing late last week. "It will slow it down, and those delays end up costing more in the long term, so it won't save money in the long term."
In particular, the cut in this year's bill could slow development of the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, the first of several FCS ground vehicles the Army intends to field, as well as other systems that are in the works.
Geren said roughly $850 million in cuts imposed by Congress in the last several years have caused delays and forced the Army to revise its plans for the program, which envisions fielding a sprawling system of manned and unmanned air and land vehicles connected by an advanced communications network. Lawmakers, particularly in the House, have long been skeptical of the FCS program, the most expensive and ambitious technological endeavor in Army history.
House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., who initially cut $406 million from the Army's $3.7 billion FCS request for fiscal 2008, has said he has strong reservations about the program, which he thinks is too expensive at a time when the Army is scrambling to pay for equipment urgently needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite the wartime pressures on his budget, Army Chief of Staff George Casey appeared during the hearing to be more concerned about any potential stress on FCS accounts after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan begin to wind down. As a recent example, Casey pointed to the so-called peacetime military procurement holiday of the 1990s.
"One of the biggest challenges is . . . going to be maintaining the kind of investments when the war is over, whenever that is," Casey said. "Modernization initiatives like FCS, I think, come under particular challenge at times ... between conflicts when Americans' interests turn elsewhere, as they did in the '90s."
Casey said military leaders "need to make sure that the country focuses on the reality of the challenge and not repeat the mistake that we made in the '90s."