On April 6, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cancelled the manned vehicle portion of the Future Combat System (FCS) program, sending the Army back to the drawing boards. Gates said that the original designs were planned with a different conflict environment in mind. The Secretary said he wanted a new design for a manned vehicle that could be put into production in five to seven years.
The Army is set to brief the Secretary of Defense soon on its new concept for what it is calling a “ground combat vehicle.” The problem is that the Army is trying to build the vehicle from the bottom-up. The FCS program left the Army with a lot of good technologies and concepts to pack into the new vehicle. These include the powerful network, improved armor, better suspension, even possibly a hybrid electric drive. Given the short time line Secretary Gates gave the Army this is all it can do, mine the technology base developed for the old program to build the new vehicle.
Historically, the Army has always designed its combat vehicles from the top-down, based on its concept of future conflict. Whether it was the swift but undergunned Sherman, the massively armored, powerfully armed M-1 Abrams, the multi-role, tracked Bradley or the new, relatively light-weight, wheeled Stryker, the Army always developed a vision of future war and an assessment of its potential adversaries in those conflicts and then built a vehicle to meet specific projected requirements.
Today the Army lacks a vision of future conflict. Hence, it has no basis for its design of the new vehicle. All it can do is sweep up the collection of good parts it developed under the old FCS program and put them in a box. Maybe the box has wheels, or perhaps it will have tracks. It may be heavily armored, or not. But without a vision, what’s the point?
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