War pressures in Iraq and Afghanistan prompt the Pentagon to shift long-term modernization strategy.
In late June, the Army announced that it was rewriting the plans for its massive Future Combat Systems program to focus its near-term efforts more heavily on infantry brigades that have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The decision marks a significant shift for the $160 billion FCS program, the most expensive and ambitious technological undertaking in the Army's history.
Rather than first fielding so-called spinout technologies to heavy brigades, as had been long planned, the Army now wants to get those technologies to deploying infantry brigades beginning in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2011-three years earlier than previously scheduled.
The changes to the program come as lawmakers, particularly key House Democrats, continue to question whether the Army can afford this long-term modernization program as it continues to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those conflicts, some say, demand immediate and significant investments in the service's ground vehicles and other equipment. Spending billions annually on FCS, the program's skeptics argue, is simply a luxury the Army can't afford-at least not in its entirety.
After the announcement, John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said his panel would review the changes, but added that the revisions make the program "more viable."
Two senior Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, which cut $200 million from the $3.6 billion fiscal 2009 request for Future Combat Systems, said the restructure is a "positive step toward improving the FCS program."
But the lawmakers, House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Armed Services Air and Land Subcommittee Chairman Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, questioned whether the new plan established to accom-modate the changes allows for adequate testing of the equipment "due to its very tight schedule."
They also suggested that the changes are among many the Army needs to make to the program.
Concerns about FCS are reverberating across the river, at the highest echelons of the Pentagon.
"It is hard for me to see how that program can be completed in its entirety," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. "In light of what are inevitably going to be pressures on the defense budget in the future, I think that . . . is one that we will have to look at carefully."
But the Pentagon, though watchful of the program, does not appear to have the appetite to make any significant cuts to FCS.
Indeed, John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, praised the program shortly after meeting with Army officials in late May. FCS, Young told reporters just days after the meeting, "has become a label and a lightning rod for doing the right thing in the Army."
He emphasized the importance of fielding FCS, but also said he will keep a close eye on the individual pieces of the program.
"I have to make sure every one of those programs will stay in budget and deliver on schedule and they have a rational development test schedule," Young said. "I'm going to look at those 'eaches' in more detail."