By Donna Borak
Friday, June 27, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Army will deliver some key technologies to ground forces in war zones three years ahead of schedule as part of its $160 billion combat modernization program led by Boeing and SAIC.
Senior Army officials said Thursday that changes to the Future Combat Systems program will expedite the use of high-tech equipment, including unmanned sensors and robotics, to infantry brigades fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2011.
Portions of the program were expected to be used by armored units by 2014, but Army officials say the technology is needed for the current war effort.
Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, said accelerating FCS and other complementary programs will help fill in gaps created by huge demands on the infantry brigades while increasing the effectiveness and safety of U.S. soldiers.
Army officials maintain that although costs might rise in the short term from the new schedule, they will balance out in future years and will not raise FCS's overall price tag, which lawmakers have criticized.
Lead contractors Boeing and SAIC said the Army's decision to accelerate the combat system technologies shows confidence in the program's progress. FCS includes 14 manned and unmanned systems linked through a secure communications network.
On Wednesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on plans to restructure the program. Gates, who backed the shift, told reporters at a briefing Thursday that FCS "deserves support."
Dan Goure, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said it appears that the Army "didn't want to repeat the same mistake" as the Air Force, which battled Gates publicly over F-22 jets made by Lockheed Martin. Gates had previously raised doubts about FCS.
"Clearly, this shows that Gates is in command in a way few secretaries have been of the services," Goure said.
A few lawmakers lauded the Army's decision. But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Hawaii Democrat Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the air and land subcommittee, expressed concern that the new plan "may not allow for adequate testing of the equipment due to its very tight schedule."