Army readies draft of modernization plan

By Megan Scully

August 17, 2009

Just months after the termination of its $160 billion Future Combat Systems program, the Army is on track to complete by Labor Day a new outline for how it plans to modernize its fighting forces, according to a senior Army official.

Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, who is overseeing a task force created after the FCS program's demise, said in an interview on Friday that his group will be ready to brief Army leaders on its conclusions in early September.

Included in its assessment will be the task force's recommendations on operational requirements for a new ground combat vehicle for the Army, as well as directions on how the Army should get new equipment to combat brigades.

Vane, director of the Training and Doctrine Command's Army Capabilities Integration Center, said the task force has relied heavily on field lessons learned from the U.S. military and allies during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to help guide their work.

The Army launched the FCS program nearly a decade ago. It planned eight types of manned ground vehicles with a common chassis as the basis of its modernization strategy.

But in April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to kill the ground vehicles -- whose price tag was expected to total $87 billion -- because of concerns the Army had not adequately incorporated lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan in their design.

In June, the Pentagon officially ended the FCS program and directed the Army to devise a modernization strategy made up of separate programs. The service plans to pursue many of the other technologies developed under FCS -- such as unmanned air and ground vehicles -- but those efforts will now be called Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization.

The task force's charter is broad, but Vane said the requirements for the vehicles are probably the group's most anticipated product.

"The Army has had not a lot of fair luck here in getting a new combat vehicle," Vane said, alluding to several program cancellations over the last 30 to 40 years.

The vehicle's specific details -- such as weight and whether it will be wheeled or tracked -- will be decided later. But the requirements set by the task force early next month will lay the groundwork for the design and put the Army on course to begin fielding the vehicles in the next five to seven years.

Vane said he has put a premium on establishing a feasible set of requirements.

He also said the task force will recommend which types of vehicles deserve a high priority on developing and fielding. While all decisions are not final, Vane indicated he would support putting a new command-and-control vehicle and an infantry fighting vehicle "near the top" of that list.

When Gates announced his intent to end the FCS ground vehicles, Army leaders did not hide their initial resistance. Army Chief of Staff George Casey said in May he had been unable to convince Gates that the service had taken into account enough of the lessons learned from the current fighting.

Vane acknowledged "change is painful," but added that the decision is a positive move for the Army.

"From where I sit, it really is an opportunity," he said. "It has been an opportunity to re-look where we've been with the program, where we've been with our requirements."

By Megan Scully

August 17, 2009