A Different Future

Big changes in the Future Combat Systems program are altering the Army's acquisition blueprint.

After nearly a decade spent pursuing the ambitious and expensive Future Combat Systems program, Army leaders are going back to the drawing board to redesign many of their long-term modernization plans.

In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates axed the manned ground vehicle portion of FCS, consisting of eight types of combat vehicles with a common frame and a price tag of $87 billion-or more than half the total FCS cost. Gates has said Army leaders failed to incorporate lessons learned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan into the plans for the vehicles, which he feared did not provide adequate protection against roadside bombs that terrorists and insurgents have used to wreak havoc on U.S. forces.

Gates also has raised concerns about the FCS contract with Boeing Co. and SAIC, the lead systems integrators that have managed the work being done on the program by many of the defense industry's biggest players.

Nevertheless, the Defense Department chief says he is committed to modernizing the Army, and plans to tap all the money once planned for FCS ground vehicles for the next several years to pay for a new vehicle effort.

"Vehicle modernization is a high priority, the Army's highest priority, and I totally support it," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 14.

Many of the Army's top thinkers are spending their summer hunkered down at the service's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., to plot a new vision for combat vehicles in the hope of emerging by Labor Day with a blueprint for the vehicles and for launching a new acquisition program next year. Officials also hope to come up with a plan to incorporate the 12,000 mine resistant ambush-protected vehicles rapidly procured during the past several years into their long-term strategy.

At the same time, the service is negotiating termination fees with Boeing and SAIC, which are expected to be "in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, the Army's top acquisition officer, said during a roundtable with reporters on July 1.

In addition to the manned ground vehicles, FCS-originally billed as a "system of systems"-also consisted of unmanned air and ground vehicles and an extensive wireless network linking all the battlefield components. The Army still plans to pursue the other technologies developed under FCS with a series of separate initiatives, according to an acquisition decision memorandum signed by the Pentagon's acquisition chief in June.

The Army intends to make Boeing the prime contractor for the first three brigades to be outfitted with unmanned vehicles and other technologies developed under FCS, Thompson said. But the next four brigades will be competitively bid. A spokesman for the program said the service wants to keep Boeing on-at least initially-to avoid significant delays in developing and fielding technology.

Megan Scully is the defense reporter for CongressDaily.

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