As might be expected for forces engaged in simultaneous operations in Iraq and Afghanistan plus additional contingency, support, and training operations spanning the globe, America’s land forces continue to defend the nation and its international interests at an operational tempo that was not imagined just a decade ago.
Land Force Snapshot
Just as with the operational realms of air, sea, space, and cyberspace, an overview “snapshot” of America’s land force developments and programs was provided on April 6, 2009, when Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates unveiled his recommendations to the president with respect to the fiscal year 2010 defense budget.
“Collectively, they represent a budget crafted to reshape the priorities of America’s defense establishment,” Gates observed at the time. “If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business.”
With regard to troop strength, for example, Gates’ recommendations called for the full protection and proper funding of “the growth in military end-strength in the base budget,” a process that includes “completing the growth in the Army and Marines.”
In the case of the U.S. Army, that growth target remains an end strength of 547,000 individuals. However, against that end strength, Gates called for halting the growth of Army brigade combat teams (BCT) at 45 versus 48, noting that the combined force structure changes “will ensure that we have better-manned units ready to deploy, and help put an end to the routine use of stop loss. This step will also lower the risk of hollowing the force.”
Land forces will also be direct beneficiaries of the defense secretary’s budget recommendation to increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support for the warfighter in the base budget “by some $2 billion” and the $500 million increase to field and sustain more helicopters.
But, in terms of land force program planning and development, few of the budget recommendations will have the impact of Gates’ decision to “significantly restructure the Army’s Future Combat Systems [FCS] program.”
“We will retain and accelerate the initial increment of the program to spin out technology enhancements to all combat brigades,” he said. “However, I have concluded that there are significant unanswered questions concerning the FCS vehicle design strategy. I am also concerned that, despite some adjustments, the FCS vehicles – where lower weight, higher fuel efficiency, and greater informational awareness are expected to compensate for less armor – do not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close-quarter combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The current vehicle program, developed nine years ago, does not include a role for our recent $25 billion investment in the MRAP [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected] vehicles being used to good effect in today’s conflicts.”
He continued, “Further, I am troubled by the terms of the current contract, particularly its very unattractive fee structure that gives the government little leverage to promote cost efficiency. Because the vehicle part of the FCS program is currently estimated to cost over $87 billion, I believe we must have more confidence in the program strategy, requirements, and maturity of the technologies before proceeding further.
Accordingly, I will recommend that we cancel the vehicle component of the current FCS program, re-evaluate the requirements, technology, and approach – and then re-launch the Army’s vehicle modernization program, including a competitive bidding process. An Army vehicle modernization program designed to meet the needs of the full spectrum of conflict is essential. But because of its size and importance, we must get the acquisition right, even at the cost of delay.”