Friday, May 04, 2007

A bad day for the military may mean a great day for human lives

Black Day For Future Combat Systems Program As Funding Gutted

According to the most enthusiastic proponents of the FCS, "so rapidly would it destroy enemies ... that U.S. troops would no longer need armor on their vehicles," Andrew Cockburn wrote.

by Martin Sieff

It was a day of rare bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. But it was also a Black Wednesday for U.S. high-tech defense contractors and for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. For Wednesday was the day that a subcommittee in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives slashed $867 million from one of Rumsfeld's most visionary -- and expensive -- programs: the U.S. military's Future Combat Systems.

The FCS was energetically promoted by Rumsfeld during his six-year tenure as U.S. secretary of defense as the program that would shape the high-tech future of the U.S. armed forces. The FCS was an ambitious plan to integrate, automate and centralize military firepower and combat systems. But it has attracted widespread criticism for enormous cost overruns and delays, although supporters say key programs have been making significant progress.

Defense News reported Wednesday that the cuts included $566 million in system-engineering funding, $362 million in contractor fees, $46 million from robots and $21 million from unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

"The FCS program has faced serious technology, cost and schedule problems in the past," Defense News quoted Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, as saying. "These issues have been pointed out by this subcommittee in past years' bills. Unfortunately, most of these same program concerns exist today."

Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, supported the decision to cut the FCS funding.

"I understand why the decision to decrement the program was made and I support the chairman's difficult decision in terms of balancing priorities," However, he said he would try to reduce the scale of the funding cutback for the program.

"I would ask the chairman (Abercrombie) to work with me prior to the full committee markup to find a way to mitigate the funding reduction," he added.

The Democrat-controlled 110th Congress was expected to take a critical look at the FCS. As we predicted in a UPI analysis on March 14, "it looks like tough times are ahead for Donald Rumsfeld's ... pride and joy -- the Future Combat Systems programs."

Even so, the speed with which Congress has started wielding the ax against the FCS and the scale of even the initial cuts in the program have come as a surprise to many.

The FCS offered the enticing promise of transforming warfare even more fundamentally than any effective BMD defense system would. Ironically, it was originally pushed not only by Rumsfeld during his now much criticized, immensely controversial six-year stint as U.S. secretary of defense, but also by a man Rumsfeld came to loathe, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.

As Rumsfeld biographer Andrew Cockburn wrote in his recently published book "Rumsfeld," the FCS "was projected to consume at least $128 billion by 2014, and would consist of manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles all tied together by computer networks that would automatically identify targets and instantly destroy them with precise firepower."

Indeed, according to the most enthusiastic proponents of the FCS, "so rapidly would it destroy enemies ... that U.S. troops would no longer need armor on their vehicles," Cockburn wrote.

That was the theory. But it hasn't being going well. On March 2, The Hill newspaper listed the FCS as one being on a list of "several technologically complicated programs still in development" that the new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress "may be forced to quash"

The Hill put the current price of the FCS at $160 billion. It also noted that over the past three years even the Republican-controlled 108th and 109th Congresses had slashed $825 million from the troubled program.

Now, however, the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, headed by Abercrombie, has proposed cutting more from the FCS after sitting for less than three months on Capitol Hill than the previous two Congresses did in four years. Development work on the FCS began in 2003, but in March 2005 a Government Accountability Office official told Congress, as Cockburn noted, that "only one of 50 technologies are mature."

In August 2005 even senior Army generals speaking on the record at a U.S. Army Knowledge Management conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., admitted that the problems of developing reliable software to integrate the many systems required by the FCS project remained horrendous.

By the time Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Cockburn noted, the overall lifetime cost of the FCS as estimated by the office of the secretary of defense had soared to $307.2 billion.

As we noted on March 14, Abercrombie had made clear he was skeptical of the FCS and intended to take a close look at it. "FCS has to be pretty ruthlessly vetted. And we'll see whether we get all these complicated systems," he told The Hill.

The failure of the U.S. armed forces to yet make significant headway against the Sunni Muslim insurgency in Iraq after six years of an unparalleled drive to load them up with high-tech wonder weapons at Rumsfeld's behest has peeled the Teflon coating from the FCS in the eyes of many American lawmakers.

Abercrombie defined the new mood on Capitol Hill succinctly when he told The Hill, "We need to do a little more training and equipping and concentrate on the basics rather than the razzle-dazzle technologies."

Wednesday's budget proposals were the biggest step yet towards implementing that radically different procurement and military spending philosophy.

Original article posted here.

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