By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Army said yesterday that it plans to restructure its $160 billion weapons modernization program, known as Future Combat Systems, marking a major shift in one of the Pentagon's most closely watched and expensive projects.
In the most significant change, the Army said that it will outfit all 73 of its combat brigades with the high-tech equipment developed under the program, rather than the 15 brigades it had originally projected.
The Army also said it will cancel $87 billion worth of light armored ground vehicles following a recommendation by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The vehicles, which were intended to replace Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks, would have relied on improved surveillance technology to compensate for their lack of heavy armor.
The Future Combat Systems program is considered one of the military's most ambitious weapons programs. It consists of a network of advanced vehicles, unmanned surveillance aircraft and battlefield sensors. Its top contractors include Boeing, SAIC, BAE and General Dynamics.
The overhaul does not mean that the Army is abandoning the costly program, defense industry analysts said. Rather, they said, the move reflects an effort to bring modern fighting equipment -- including robots, precision missiles and surveillance tools -- to more Army forces.
"This matters because the future Army needs to be able to sustain a fight over long periods of time," said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant. "That would be harder if some units were equipped with new technology and others were not."
The Government Accountability Office has said some of the technology of Future Combat Systems is untested, but the Army disagrees. Thompson said the program would get more scrutiny as the Pentagon does its quadrennial review of weapons programs over the summer.
The Army's move comes a month after Gates suggested cutting the program's ground vehicle and giant cannon components, which are made by BAE Systems and General Dynamics, arguing that they would not be as useful in the military's fights against insurgencies in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army officials have said they plan to develop a new ground vehicle to replace those that would be canceled under Gates's proposal. A plan is expected to be developed by Labor Day for the new vehicles, which are expected to include more protection against roadside bombs.
An SAIC spokesman referred calls to Boeing. In a statement, Boeing said it remains "committed to executing to the Army's plan and delivering these critical capabilities to soldiers as soon as possible.
A spokesman for General Dynamics also referred calls to Boeing. A spokeswoman for BAE said the company remained committed to working with the Pentagon.
To date, SAIC and Boeing have been paid $13.7 billion for their work on the program.