21 Mar 05. CHRISTIAN LOWE of Defense News reported that the U.S. Army’s top weapons buyer declined to insist that manned ground vehicles for the Future Combat System (FCS) be light enough to fly aboard C-130 Hercules transport planes, seemingly hedging his bets against technological innovations that may not come about in time for the vehicles’ fielding in the next decade. Army acquisition chief Claude Bolton told members of the House Armed Services tactical air and land subcommittee that the only C-130-related design criteria he’s sticking to is that each vehicle be small enough to fit in the airlifter’s cargo bay. He was less than confident that its weight could be driven down below the 20-ton limit the Hercules can actually lift.
“We don’t have the technology today to do that. We’re trying to mature that [technology] over the next 18 months to see if we can get there,” Bolton said at the March 16 hearing. “How close will we get? … It will certainly be less than 70 tons. I believe it will be less than 50 tons, perhaps less than 30 tons — but will it be 20 tons or 19? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Bolton’s comments are at odds with the Army’s official position on the manned ground vehicle’s weight. In February, Lt. Gen. Kevin Byrnes, Army Training and Doctrine Command chief, said making the vehicle light enough to fly aboard a C-130 and roll off to fight was critical. Army future strategy calls for a highly maneuverable force that fights where the enemy is most vulnerable, taking advantage of the “white spaces” of the battlefield to position its force for strikes against enemy concentrations. So the Army needs future manned combat vehicles that can be moved throughout the battlefield via aerial transports to remote, short, unimproved airfields.
“The No. 1 challenge is the transportability issue. C-130 is the requirement and we’re standing by that requirement,” Byrnes said at the Association of the United States Army’s winter conference. In his testimony, Bolton told lawmakers that a vehicle even 10 tons more than the 20-ton limit would be a good option. “Anything that we can get down under 30 tons will drastically reduce the logistics tails,” he said. “So we’re trying very hard to get this as small as possible. The challenge to me from the war fighter is to put it into the [C-]130 and prove to me you can’t.”
But Byrnes has worried that if the 20-ton limit is breached, the vehicle could become obese. “When there’s no sizing constraint, we will have more good ideas … and it will cause the thing to grow,” he said.
The mixed message comes as the FCS program faces growing skepticism over whether the ambitious $108bn program can achieve even the Army’s basic requirements. Bolton insisted that the program was proceeding as expected, but critics say the program runs the risk of spiraling out of control. The Army and FCS program lead contractors, Boeing and SAIC, are looking at alternatives to fulfill the Army’s transportability goals, but the technological obstacles are daunting.
In a March 16 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), auditors worried that the program has moved ahead without having better developed key technologies that make the system of 18 manned and unmanned ground vehicles and munitions work in unison.
“The FCS has demonstrated a level of knowledge far below that suggested by best practices or DoD policy,” said Paul Francis, the GAO’s acquisition and sourcing management director, in written testimony to the committee. “If everything goes as planned, the program will attain the level of knowledge in 2008 that it should have had before it started in 2003. But things are not going as planned.”
The Army intends to outfit an experimental FCS-equipped brigade with several of the 18 core technologies in 2007. Other systems such as the manned ground vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles will