Although the Army has officially terminated its massive Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, the real situation is a bit more complicated. It still wants to build the System of Systems Common Operating Environment network that was to be the glue holding FCS together. It still wants to “spin out” new technologies like unattended ground sensors developed for FCS to most combat units in the service. And it still wants to build an armored vehicle incorporating many of the features envisioned for the canceled Manned Ground Vehicle.
The new vehicle is crucial to the whole scheme, because the service needs a system that can generate enough electricity on the move to power all the functions of the network. Legacy vehicles like the M113 troop carrier can’t generate enough power to fully benefit from the network’s capabilities. So when Army leaders brief defense secretary Robert Gates on how they have responded to his demand to assimilate the lessons of the last eight years, they will propose a system much heavier than the 30-ton Manned Ground Vehicle with something similar to a V-shaped hull to defeat improvised explosives — but it will still have a hybrid electric drive and abundant electrical generating capacity.
Gates agonized over whether to cancel the FCS vehicle family, and when he did (on April 6) he set aside the money to execute a revised design, expressing the hope that development could proceed on a schedule close to the original plan. But that depends on his approval of the reconfigured vehicle. Once approval is in hand, the Army needs to figure out how to retrofit the renamed FCS network into vehicles like Stryker and Bradley that are likely to remain in the force for decades to come. The electricity requirements will make that a major engineering challenge — assuming it isn’t feasible to install a 50-mile extension cord on each vehicle.
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