TCS Daily

The Future of Combat

By Melana Zyla Vickers - March 14, 2002 12:00 AM

At first glance, the Armys decision last Thursday to give Boeing the job of spearheading its Future Combat Systems (FCS) may seem surprising. Why would the boots-on-the-ground Army choose an aerospace company to lead its modernization?

The answer is simple. If the Army is to transform into a light, fast, stealthy, technology-and-information-intensive, networked force, itll need the kind of expertise in systems integration that Boeing excels at. After all, the company chosen as the FCS lead systems integrator has for decades been building systems that allow aircraft, technology on the ground, technology in space, and human operators to work together. Boeing also has expertise in stealth materials and unmanned combat aerial vehicles capabilities that planners in the Army are increasingly interested in putting to use.

The Army seeks to build in the next decade a system of lighter infantry carriers, unmanned air and surface vehicles, sensors, missiles, and other weapons that would all communicate together on the battlefield. These pieces promise to change fundamentally an Army that, in the words of Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, is dragged down by 70-ton platforms, large, static and vulnerable command posts, logistics tails with large footprints that are unwieldy, difficult to move. Among these albatrosses are the 80-ton Crusader artillery system, a weapon on which the Army wants to spend some $11 billion over then next decade, yet which is designed for set-piece battles in Cold War Europe.

The slowness, which Gen. Shinseki refers to, was evident in the Persian Gulf War, when the Army took six months to get ready for action, as well as in the deployment of Task Force Hawk for the Kosovo war.
By contrast, the Future Combat Systems promise to allow the Army to deploy a brigade of about 4,000 soldiers anywhere in the world in 96 hours. A division would take only 120 hours to deploy. Among the Future Combat Systems most critical components:
  • Robots: Rough-and-tumble, remotely operated ground vehicles could be mounted with guns and sent into enemy fire before manned vehicles, and could provide flank security. The robots would improve the Armys ability to fight in urban areas.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles: Unmanned aircraft including unmanned helicopters could scout an area in order to identify threats and targets for soldiers.
  • Systems of sensors: Soldiers would receive from the Future Combat Systems real-time information picked up by sensors that could see across long distances using video, radar, infra-red and other technologies.
  • Missiles in a box: An easily transportable pack of missiles that might be mounted on a remotely operated vehicle, allowing soldiers not only to fire at targets beyond their line of sight but to stay out of harms way while doing it.
  • Guns: Kinetic-energy weapons firing missiles at high speed, as well as electro-thermal cannons, could give the Army the lethal firepower of a tank with far less weight.
  • Armored vehicles: Armor made of a stealthy, high-tech material would make the new tanks almost invisible to radar yet keep them light enough to be transportable on a C-130 plane in other words, under 16.5 tons apiece.
These are still early days for the Future Combat Systems. The Department of Defense has yet to select contractors for building the $5-billion initial version. And Boeing, as the recipient of the Armys $154 million systems-integration contract, must present by June its concept of how the system of sensors and vehicles will look and work. But one thing is already clear from the Armys choice of an aerospace company instead of a traditional Army contractor: Some of the services leaders have understood how much the Army needs to change, and think differently, in order to prepare itself for winning the wars of the future.

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