What makes the attached RAND REPORT interesting is that RAND analysts knew the Future Combat System (FCS) program was a disaster on day 1. But no one inside RAND would dare to tell the Army Chief of Staff that he was on the road to waste billions and billions of dollars.
Conditions inside today’s Army are not very different from the time when FCS introduced. Even Dan Goure from the Lexington Institute, normally a stalwart supporter of the military status quo and whatever the Army Chief of Staff wants recently wrote: ”Over the past thirty years, the U.S. Army has cancelled some 20 major acquisition programs including armored fighting vehicles, helicopters, artillery pieces, communications systems, infantry weapons and munitions. If you count designs that never got out of the research and development (R&D) process that number more than doubles.” (“The U.S. Army Defeats Itself More Often Than All Its Enemies Combined,” The National Interest, 1 July 2016.)
So why are things so very wrong inside the US Army? RAND’s study fails to point out the real problem in 2000: Leadership at the top. In GEN Shinseki’s case, FCS was a requirement he created. Once written in stone, a Four Star’s program became something that no one in uniform could challenge without risking the destruction of his or her career. Today’s Army continues to suffer with the legacy of the FCS program and the behavior of its Four Star leadership. Consider the following notes:
A successful program requires a sound technical feasibility analysis.
Senior-level involvement can significantly motivate an acquisition effort. (RAND)
1. GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff, demanded that the contractors do what they could not: Break the laws of physics and create a 13-15 Ton wheeled armored vehicle with the protection of a 70 Ton Abrams tank that could fly on a C-130 aircraft. Finally, when Boeing realized that if they would lose the billions that Senators Stevens and Inouye on the SAC would provide to GEN Shinseki if Boeing continued to tell the Army Chief of Staff, “It cannot be done,” Boeing accepted the mission. Of course, Boeing’s terms were very lucrative and antithetical to the Army’s and the American Tax Payer’s interests, but GEN Shinseki pushed through the contract.
2. The stated goal of the vague FCS System of Systems was to uniformly equip all ten divisions in the Army. Program Completion was scheduled to occur in 2032. Given that we moved from horse cavalry in 1914 to the Atom Bomb in 1945 (31 years), the idea that equipment designed in 2005 would still be relevant in 2032 never made sense, but no one dared say so. Despite assertions that he was a “futurist and a visionary,” General Shinseki was far more worried about preserving the ten triangular division 1942 structure than he was in future warfare. Privately, he told his general officers, “If I don’t buy something new, no one on the Hill will believe that the US Army is changing.” And, second, GEN Shinseki testified in 2000 before the SASC about the interim combat vehicle—a block III LAV with no armament—that in his judgement SUV technology had reached a level of maturity that “an entire Army on wheels was now feasible.” Even his strongest backers, Senators Stevens and Inouye were surprised at this statement, but given the money involved, neither one was prepared to halt the massive spending spree that was about to begin. Search through C-SPAN’s files and you can watch this event. Only Senator Joe Lieberman pushed back at the time saying, “The Germans were able to achieve revolutionary change by starting with an operational concept. What’s your operational concept?” GEN Shinseki’s answer was: “I just want to make sure that our ‘kids’ (referring to the 82nd) that go back to Iraq the next time don’t end up without the mobility they need.” Berets and wheels became the “sin qua non” of Army transformation.
3. It was not long before SASC Staffers figured out that FCS was a scam. One wrote on 27 October 2006, “The Future Combat System (FCS) involves no net increase in army fighting strength. But together with modularity, it costs something like $48 billion (modularity) + $145 billion (FCS) + $25 billion (communications network), and will equip only one-third of the army in 20 years! This is nuts!” However, as the money flowed, GEN Shineki’s Potemkin Village grew to ever increasing proportions. Once GEN Shinseki announced his determination to build ‘FCS’ anyone in uniform who did not sign up for it was DOA. Those officers who wanted to be generals knew that to reach flag rank they had to slavishly support a program that made no sense and had no chance of success. The sitting three and four stars knew that to get access to the vast sums of money for FCS they had to work closely with the contractor, Boeing and Boeing’s subcontractors. Once the money flowed to contractors in districts and states, it was largely irrelevant to members whether it produced anything of value for the US Army as long as the money flowed and their reelection campaign funds prospered. The outcome is summed up by an anonymous Army Colonel who worked on the project:
“FCS lasted 8 years and squandered nearly $20 billion on a fantasy: that soldiers, bombs and bullets could be replaced by remote sensors and networks. Once the money started pouring in, the Army's top generals did not want to risk their careers by revealing the program’s obvious flaws and unrealistic goals. Members of Congress declined to challenge sub-contracts that brought money into their own districts.”
By the way, no hearings to determine what went wrong with FCS were ever held on the Hill. Clearly, nothing went wrong. “Money spent was capability achieved” in the minds of members.
The bad news is that battlefield lethality is rising dramatically on a scale not seen since WW II. Meanwhile, today’s U.S. Army fighting force is in ruins and falling further and further behind its potential opponents in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Near East. This is due, in part, to FCS; a program that was conceived to ensure the US Army remained frozen in its 1942 ten division construct. The rapid conversion of the U.S. Army during the Iraq/Afghan occupations into a light infantry constabulary force on wheels reinforced with old tanks, brads and artillery designed in the 1970s was in many ways an unavoidable outcome of occupation, but it has simply exacerbated the problem that confronts today’s Army.
Conditions today are frighteningly reminiscent of conditions during the interwar period. As Dr. David Johnson of RAND described several years ago, between 1919 and 1939 the Army’s Senior Leaders:
1. Focused on traditional roles—re-fought the last “successful” war (or, in the British Army, built a constabulary, motorized force);
2. Fought for budget share & end-strength, not capability;
3. Advanced the “Single Service” way of fighting;
4. Experimented with the “familiar”, but crushed innovation;
5. Preserved status quo structure and career pattern. Officers that did not conform vanished.
Once more, the mantra from the top is, “Read my lips. Ten Divisions.” However, this time it’s “Light Infantry ueber Alles!” The unrelenting investment in light solutions like the JLTV and Stryker http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/europe/2015/07/23/us-army-strykers--europe-need-30mm--russia/30551987/ continues with ominous consequences for future Army forces. The passion for dismounted airborne operations, an anachronism whose record of failure in action (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26371787-when-failure-thrives ) and human loss is unmatched in the annals of 20th Century military history is currently shaping future Army investments (http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/02/21/army-wants-light-tanks-for-the-airborne.html ).
From his vantage point on 19 July 1916 in France, then, Colonel JFC Fuller observed, “The Soldier is the most conservative creature on earth. It is really dangerous to give him an idea, because he will not adopt it until it is obsolete, and then, will not abandon it until it has nearly destroyed him.”
[JFC Fuller, Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier, page 151.]
Fuller’s assessment perfectly describes the state of thinking, modernization and acquisition in today’s US Army. The real question is whether the next president will do anything about these conditions, as well as, the leadership in the U.S. Army. If reform and reorganization are derailed yet again as they were with FCS, modernization will fail. Moreover, Soldiers won’t have years to gear up for the fight as we did before the two world wars let alone allies that will take casualties for years before we arrive. That’s the strategic dilemma for which the U.S. Army is totally unprepared.
Cheers, Doug Macgregor