The Army made a big decision, back in October. After 15 years and a half-billion dollars in development, the service would finally take Land Warrior, its ensemble of high-tech soldier gear, to war for the first time. The collection of radios, GPS-locators, and next-generation rifle scopes wasn’t perfect — far from it. But, for infantrymen who typically don’t even have a walkie-talkie, it was an important first step towards plugging the average soldier into battlefield network.
But, just six weeks later, the Army appears to have reversed itself. According to Inside Defense, service financiers have decided to kill off Land Warrior in its 2008 budget. It’s one of a number of high-tech programs slated for big cuts by the Army.
The service got $17 billion less than what it wanted for its 2008 budget from the Pentagon and the White House. “Earlier in October… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said if the service got less than what it needed in FY-08 it would be forced to slow the modernization of the force,” Inside Defense’s Dan Dupont notes. “In submitting its budget plan to Pentagon leaders last week, the Army contended that budget constraints have forced the service to take what it believes are imprudent risks in the readiness of todays forces, as well as in its future plans.”
Future Combat Systems — the Army’s plan to connect all its next-generation tanks, robots, and fighting vehicles to that battlefield network — is also slated to take a good-sized hit.
By delaying key milestones, shifting some pieces of the program out of FCS plans and killing others, the Army believes it can save more than $3.3 billion over the next six budget years (fiscal years 2008 to 2013).
The moves would reduce the cost to field each FCS brigade combat team, but it would also push back procurement plans for BCT equipment, delaying by five years the schedule for fielding the teams, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The FCS cuts also entail the removal of some unmanned aerial vehicles from the program and the deferral of some vehicles, as well as some ammunition. The upshot of the moves would be an FCS program consisting of 14 platforms plus the network, down from the 18 envisioned today, with FCS systems to be fielded at a rate of one brigade combat team per year for fifteen years, beginning in 2015. Prior plans called for those 15 BCTs to be fielded at a rate of 1.5 per year over 10 years.
Now, just because the Army has proposed these cuts doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to happen. As you may have heard, there’s a new party taking over Congress. And, at least in the run-up to the elections, these guys made a lot of noise about giving the Army a boost. Then there’s the new Secretary of Defense. He may be more favorably inclined to funding the Army than his predecessor was. Certainly, he seems to look kindly on the larger goal of retooling the military. Check of this exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Dole:
SEN. DOLE: Dr. Gates, the transformation efforts undertaken by Secretary Rumsfeld are critical to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. While Secretary Rumsfeld made transformation of the military a priority, obviously much remains to be done. In your view, which transformation programs are the most important and effective in fighting this war on terror?…
MR. GATES: Senator Dole, one of the things that has impressed me the most in the briefings — the very short briefings that I’ve received preparatory to this hearing, is the extent of the transformation that actually has taken place in recent years, compared to when I was in government.
I can’t tell you how many crisis meetings I sat through in the Situation Room over a 20-year period, and we would look at military contingencies, and we would be looking at 60 to 90 days to generate a brigade, to get a military force on the move and in place.
So the expeditionary nature of the Army, the mobility, the change in mind-set — sometimes perhaps those of you who have been really close to it may not fully appreciate just how dramatically the situation already has changed, compared to when I was in government last.
I think that the transformation needs to continue… The two things that I think make a lot of sense has been this shift of the Army from being basically a static force to a more mobile expeditionary force. I think that’s very important.
I think that the — based on very superficial information at this point, this — the shift from divisions to the brigade structure does make a lot of sense, and I think it provides a lot more flexibility.
I would say that one of the things that I think is very important in the transformation is continuing to strengthen our capacity to fight irregular wars. I think that’s where the action is going — is most likely to be for the foreseeable future. And so I think it’s very important that it go forward.