The U.S. Army is now rushing its
FCS (Future Combat Systems) into service before an impatient Congress cuts off all
the money. FCS is a broad array of new weapons and equipment, including new vehicles, weapons and
electronic devices that take advantage of the latest technologies. FCS has been
in the works for over a decade, and is supposed to replace existing weapons and
equipment between 2015-30. Many in the Department of Defense see this as
another procurement boondoggle (along with the F-22 and the navy's new
destroyer). There have already been some cuts in the FCS budget. In response,
the army is speeding up deployment of some of the FCS gear.
example, the replacement for the half
century old M-109, the NLOS-C will be the first of the eight MGV (Manned Ground
Vehicle) systems to enter service, in a year or two. The first of the FCS
combat brigades will be formed within three years. These units have fewer
troops (2,500) than the current (and newly implanted) combat brigades (3,500
troops). The FCS brigades depend on automation and more electronics to make up
for manpower. If that works, many in the army believe that the NLOS-C will
quickly replace the M-109, especially in the newly reorganized Brigade Combat
prototype of the 155mm NLOS-C was cobbled together in six months, after the new
Crusader SP artillery system was cancelled in 2002. Although the M-109 has been
frequently updated, the NLOS-C incorporates many new technologies. This
includes an auto-loader (from the Crusader) and a more modern 155mm gun (the
M-777, a towed, British designed system) and an APC chassis with a
hybrid-electric engine (to reduce fuel consumption.) This all weighs 23 tons,
about the same as the M-109. But the NLOS only has a two man crew, compared to
five in the M-109. The final version of the NLOS-C will be heavier (about 27
tons), because more defense systems have been added, to reflect experience in
Iraq. be a ton or two lighter. The M777 howitzer will not be used in the
NLOC-C, but an even lighter (by at least half a ton) 155mm gun.
heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan, the FCS versions of the five pound Raven UAV
and PackBot infantry robot, will be arriving ahead of schedule. More
problematic is the new wireless data network (think battlefield Internet). Only
about a third of the code has been written so far. Another vaporware type item
is the lightweight composite armor that will give the FCS combat vehicles a
high degree of protection. This armor is still being tested and developed. Much
depends on this stuff working.
there's a war going on, and some 200,000 troops are constantly in combat, there
is ample opportunity to try new stuff under combat conditions. The current
generation of troops grew up with short production cycles (new products coming
out frequently), and expect the same thing with their weapons and equipment.
Normally, the military takes its time developing new items. But not in wartime.
So the army is making the most of this by trying to get a lot of FCS into
service before the war ends.