2008: The U.S. Army has dropped any
pretence of trying to roll out its new FCS (Future Combat Systems) stuff as a
complete package. The Department of Defense has ordered that FCS items be
readied for combat use as soon as possible. The future will arrive piecemeal,
as had been happening ever since September 11, 2001, and especially since early
Cold War ended, the U.S. Army saw it's future combat vehicles as being smaller
and lighter, relying more on missiles, better communications and lots of
electronic gadgets. All this was called FCS, and it would change everything.
Then came 2003, and three American divisions invaded Iraq and, within three
weeks, had seized Baghdad and conquered the country. When the dust had settled,
and the battles were carefully examined, it was discovered that the key to
rapid victory were the "obsolete" M-1 tanks and M-2 Infantry Fighting Vehicles.
didn't faze the FCS developers, for the 20-30 ton FCS vehicles could have done
the same thing. The key was being resistant to the RPG rockets, which the M-1
and M-2 were. But that got people thinking. We got all these M-1s and M-2s, and
money is tight, and the FCS crowd are asking for over $100 billion to buy new
armored vehicles. Why not just keep upgrading the armor we got, and we know works? This bold idea,
reeking of practicality and thrift, received a cool reception. It took years
for the FCS crowd to get enough support for the money to start flowing, and now
these retards want to face the future with refurbs.
The FCS is
seen as a breakthrough system. Actually, it's over fifty systems (depending on
how you count them), and a lot of technologies that haven't been invented yet.
The tried and true crew responded with an offer to try out each of the new
technologies as they become available. Whenever that might be. Eventually, the
brass at the Pentagon agreed with this. Meanwhile, FCS faced a more formidable
problem than reality checks after 2003; lack of money. Not only was Iraq
reminding everyone how well existing armor works, but it sucked up the billions
that FCS was hoping to feast on.
nothing if not ambitious, with its plan to militarize many new technologies
before anyone else does, and give the army powerful armored vehicles that can
be airlifted anywhere in the world in a few days, and then be easier to
maintain because the FCS vehicles guzzle a lot less fuel. But that depends on
the air force coming up with more transports (C-17s), something the air force
has been reluctant to do. The air force has its own FCS (the F-22 and F-35),
and that's where all the money is going.
What a lot
of officers, and troops, began to see was a need for evolution, not revolution.
There's no longer any big land army out there that needs to be shut down. The
Red Army is gone, the Chinese army is largely obsolete and shrinking, the North
Korean army is falling apart, and the Iranians are more concerned about another
civil war. The few nations that are still building new tanks are trying to keep
up with the M-1, not leap-frog it using unproven technologies. Continued
efforts to keep FCS alive ended up becoming evolutionary as well, because the
money just wasn't there.
was another factor at work in undermining FCS, and it was called RFI (Rapid
Fielding Initiative). One of the little noticed after-effects of the
Afghanistan campaign was the establishment, in early 2002, of the Rapid
Fielding Initiative. This was an army program that recognized that American
army troops did not always have the best weapons and equipment. RFI was
intended to do something about that, and do it quickly.
see RFI coming. There were three existing trends pushing it. First, there was a
lot more new technology coming on the market that troops could use. Some of it
came from the companies that created equipment for the hiking and camping
market (boots, rucksacks, all manner of outdoor clothing). Other stuff came
from hunting suppliers (new gun sights). There was a flood of new electronic
gear, like lighter and more reliable GPS receivers and computer gear.
trend was that the troops were all on the Internet, and like never before, were
in touch with each other via military related message boards, listservs and
chat rooms. Troops have always been coming up with new ideas about how to use
civilian gear for military purposes. But before the Internet came along, each
soldiers discovery spread slowly. Now, information about new discoveries gets
spread army wide within hours.
there was SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which had long possessed it's own
RFI powers, and budget to go with it. SOCOM could buy neat new weapons, as well
as equipment. SOCOM could also afford to buy expensive stuff (night vision gear
and satellite phones). SOCOM personnel were on the Internet as well. By 2001,
thousands of soldiers were speculating on the Internet how much more effective
they could be if they had SOCOMs freedom to quickly get new stuff that allowed
them to do their job better.
American troops went into Afghanistan in early October, 2001, it was several
hundred SOCOM Special Forces operators that did most of the work. Once the
media got to the Special Forces guys, stories started coming out about the
non-standard gear they were using. American infantrymen being sent to
Afghanistan saw those stories, as did people in the Pentagon. Connections
started to get made. Among other things, someone in the Pentagon realized that
the army would not look too good if too many journalists interviewed too many
troops who had bought civilian equipment with their own money. Especially if
the new equipment, from a civilian supplier, was obviously superior to the
stuff the government was giving the troops. With this kind of incentive, the
Rapid Fielding Initiative was quickly set up and became a big success.
The Iraq campaign
gave the RFI another workout. A typical incident involved all the raids troops
had to make and the problems with getting through sturdy locked doors. Some
troops knew of special equipment police departments used, others knew of
special equipment fire fighters used to break into burning buildings. The
proper equipment was soon in the troops hands, and many lives, both American
and Iraqi, were saved. Stories came back from Afghanistan and Iraq about how
great the RFI gear was and all was well with the troops and the brass in the
So now FCS
becomes, in effect, a part of RFI. It's another example of what happens when
carefully constructed plans encounter reality. Reality always wins. But in this
case, FSC will end up more real, and more likely to see the light of day.