Modernization: The Army’s Continued Tale of Woe

In recent testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli seemed to meander his way around the future of Army modernization. He knew there was a problem, but like many of his colleagues and predecessors could not succinctly articulate the Army’s needs, its vision and the “why” behind it all.

A number of years ago in its plan to transform its units and organize for combat, the Army outlined a very clear, albeit bizarre, modernization strategy. They gave it a name – Future Combat Systems. It was made up of all kinds of stuff – 18 systems ranging from wheeled vehicles to unmanned aerial systems. Lots of good stuff.

That was the beginning of the end. Eighteen systems screamed “Cut me!” to Congress. The situation was made worse in how most Army officials explained the tangle, “Eighteen, plus one, plus one.” (Huh?) Well, one plus-one was the “network” into which all these systems ideally would plug. The second plus-one was the soldier. When weaknesses in this thinking were highlighted, the defensive retort often pointed to the Navy, “Well they get ships with a lot of systems.” (Yes, they do. And they can articulate their needs.)

The Army was adamant — that is, until it panicked. It began to cut FCS. Well, they could cut a wheeled vehicle or two because they had others that could do the job, and a UAV could go because there were more to take on those duties.
It was little surprise that Congress cut from there. In a short period FCS was eviscerated.

Few, other than the former deputy chief of staff for Army programs, Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes talked about “Army Modernization” (which is exactly what FCS was) in terms the Hill and the public could embrace. Had the modernization been couched correctly, our guess is a viable program (albeit smaller than originally planned) would be in place today.

As reported, the Army has reason to worry. It blew a solid plan to avoid the material mess in which it now finds itself.

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