Article Published in the Defense News
For almost a decade now, the central focus of defense planning in the U.S. and the source of innumerable articles, has been how to transform the military that won the Cold War into a 21st Century force. Defense planners and theorists alike have been fascinated by the concept of an imminent revolution in military affairs, the RMA. This revolution, according to the experts, involves changes in technology, organization, and operations intended to achieve orders-of-magnitude improvements in military performance and combat power.
Historically, most would-be revolutionaries have been all talk and no action. Unfortunately, this is the case too with those who write and plan for the RMA. Virtually all the changes in the force structure, weapons systems, and concepts of operations for U.S. military forces over the past decade have been incremental changes intended either to improve on the well-tested designs and practices of the Cold War, or respond to the exigencies of operating a smaller force in an era of increased OPTEMPO.
There is always an exception to the rule that those who talk the talk of the RMA can’t or won’t walk the walk. In this case it is the U.S. Army, and most specifically, the Army’s Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki. The U.S. Army is not merely walking the walk, it is fairly sprinting ahead, determined to reshape itself based on a set of new capabilities. Every revolution must have a goal. In this case General Shinseki set the truly ambitious goal of achieving a transformation into a new kind of fighting force by 2010. Shinseki declared that: “heavy forces must be more strategically deployable and more agile, with a smaller logistical footprint, and light forces must be more lethal, survivable and tactically mobile.”
Mere words, some might say, except for the fact that the Army is putting the full weight of its acquisition dollars behind the transformation effort. It is investing most of its relatively scarce RDT&E resources into the Future Combat System (FCS), a family of vehicles intended to replace all existing combat vehicles. Ideally, the FCS would weigh around 20 tons and be wheeled. The Army hopes to make a selection among candidate systems and concepts in 2003 and actually begin fielding these new systems by 2008.
The first step towards this transformation is the creation of new medium weight brigades equipped with the Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV). Here too the Army didn’t just talk it acted. In November, after a long and exhaustive assessment, the Army picked for its IAV the eight-wheeled LAV 3. The choice of a wheeled vehicle for the IAV sent a shock wave through an Army that had relied almost exclusively on tracked armored vehicles for more than fifty years. According to the Army’s assessment, the LAV 3-based IAV outperformed its rivals. The IAV can move faster than tracked vehicles, consumes less fuel, requires fewer man-hours of repair, needs a smaller logistical support base, and is more flexible in the complex terrain that is fast becoming the Army’s new battlefield. At one-half to one-third the weight of existing armored vehicles, IAV -equipped units can be moved using fewer transport aircraft. Equally important, its size and weight means that the IAV can be transported by C-130 tactical transports.
An important transformation also is in the offing for Army aviation. This month, the RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance/attack and air combat helicopter completed its first flight in an all-up configuration. With its stealthy design and fully digitized avionics, C3 and combat systems, the Comanche has become an integral part of the Army transformation effort. In complex contingencies, the Comanche may well find a role not only in support of ground operations, but as the lead element in a truly combined-arms capability. The Comanche meets the needs of an Army that wants to move swiftly and strike hard.
The IAV and Comanche are two leading systems in the Army’s effort to create a fully transformed objective force. In addition, the Army is also modernizing other elements of its force posture. Improvements to the heavy forces, particularly the upgrading of the venerable M-1 and the deployment of a slimmed down version of the crusader are intended to make these heavy systems more deployable and capable. The use of modern digital C3ISR technology throughout the force will allow the creation of a system-of-systems unmatched in the world.
Where others talk, plan and wait, the Army is moving out. With the IAV decision, the continuing investment in Comanche and the R&D for the FCS, the Army is laying the foundation of a revolutionary transformation.
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