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Army news service (Sept. 28, 2005): Army demonstrates Future Combat Systems.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The Army initiative to transition to a new modular force took a step forward last week with the first comprehensive public demonstration of several Future Combat Systems technologies at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

The demonstrations included flights of unmanned aerial vehicles and live firings of the 120mm Breach-Loaded Mortar, 120mm Light-Weight Cannon and, via video feed from Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., the 155mm Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon.

The events also included in-the-field demonstrations of the Stryker Leader-Follower, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, and the Manned Ground Vehicle Chassis Test-bed.

Reporters, congressional staffers, and senior military and industry leaders watched the demonstrations Sept. 21. They also viewed static displays that included the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, Intelligent Munitions System, and Unattended Ground Sensors, among others.

"No Longer Just Drawing-board Concept"

The systems showed the lethal power, speed, and survivability capable of supporting a modular force of 43 brigades, designed to rapidly deploy for any combat operation, officials said.

In his remarks to reporters, Army Secretary Dr. Francis J. Harvey said the presentations of FCS component systems were "a clear demonstration that the Future Combat Systems program is no longer just a drawing-board concept."

And while Harvey noted that the combination of the Army's modular-force initiative and the FCS program forms the basis of the Service's future-combat-force strategy, he pointed out that FCS is not being implemented solely to equip a future force.

Army Spiraling FCS Technologies

"The Army is taking full advantage of FCS technologies as they are developed in the near term, and expeditiously putting them into the hands of soldiers," Harvey said. "We are inserting advances in active protection, networking, unattended sensors, precision munitions, and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles into the current force as soon as they are ready."

One of the most impressive demonstrations at Aberdeen, judging by guests' enthusiastic response, was that of the unmanned RQ-8 Fire Scout UAV. The diminutive helicopter took off, flew a preset search pattern over APG's Phillips Army Airfield and then landed, all by remote control. Built by Northrop Grumman Corp., the Fire Scout can carry a variety of sensors, and is currently under joint operational testing by both the Army and Navy.

iRobot Awes Crowd

Equally popular with onlookers was the Packbot Explorer, built by iRobot Corp. of Burlington, Mass. Compact and man-portable, the small tracked vehicle is an outgrowth of earlier variants that are already in service in both Afghanistan and Iraq.


Remotely guided by a technician, the small camera-carrying robot demonstrated its ability to climb stairs, maneuver over and around obstacles, and flip itself back upright after taking a tumble. Company representatives also displayed larger variants capable of carrying a broader range of sensors.

Ground Vehicle Shows Speed, Agility

At the other end of the FCS size spectrum is the Manned Ground Vehicle Chassis Testbed, which demonstrated its agility and speed during circuits of a small test track at APG's Perryman Test Range. A small vehicle with a very low silhouette and an innovative--and quiet--track system, the MGV is the developmental prototype of the common platform for FCS's eight manned vehicle types, including both the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon and Non-Line-of-Sight Mortar.

The prototype platform is lighter and faster than vehicles it is meant to replace, giving the modular force the capability to quickly deploy to any trouble spot with equipment that is agile and lethal on the ground.

NLOS Cannon Shows Firepower

During firepower demonstrations, participants viewed live firings of the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon and Non-Line-of-Sight Mortar via a video link.

Mounted in a turret similar to the one intended for the fielded system, the breach-loaded mortar fired several rounds in quick succession. The Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon also fired several times, though from a much greater remove--it was firing at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Among the static displays drawing the most attention from visitors was the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Essentially a multiple-launch rocket system in a small, portable container, each NLOS-LS contains 15 vertical-launch rounds. The containers also house tactical fire-control electronics and software for remote and unmanned operations.

Sensor Network to Link Battlefield

"What we've seen demonstrated here is nothing less than the future of ground combat," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker during a post-demon-stration news conference. "These systems and the technologies they incorporate will allow the Army to remain the world's dominant land power well into the 21st century."

The delivery of the first FCS systems will mark the introduction of the next generation of combat systems and sensors and of a network that will for the first time link all the sensor pictures gathered across the modern battlefield, said Brig. Gen. Charles Cartwright, the Army's unit-of-action program manager.

What that means for soldiers and joint forces, he said, is that all units and all systems at virtually every level will benefit from vastly greater situational awareness and coordination of operation planning and execution.

FCS Purpose: Support Modular Forces

As impressive as the FCS demonstrations were, their demonstrators were quick to point out that the FCS program supports the Army's larger vision of building modular forces that will play a key role in joint operations.

"The overall purpose of the FCS family of systems is, quite simply, to provide an organization that is mobile, agile, and protected, and that provides the joint combatant commander a multitude of options that [he or she] doesn't have today," said Al Resnick, director of requirements integration at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

"If you go back and look at the Army's mission-needs statement when it started down the path toward FCS, you see that the Army had--and still has--a critical need to be able to take units, like brigades, anywhere at any time and have them be combat-capable when they get there," said retired Lt. Gen. Dan Zanini, the FCS deputy program manager for SAIC, Inc., which, with Boeing, is lead FCS system integrator. "The Army also needs the ability to dominate across the full range of military operations, from peacekeeping to full-out combat, and FCS will allow it to do that."

Team Effort Keeps FCS on Schedule

The 18 platforms that make up the FCS family of systems are the work of some 23 prime and more than 345 other contractors, a communal effort that Cartwright called the basis of the program's continuing success.

"The best of American industry is involved in this program," he said. "Every major Department of Defense contractor is part of this program, and they're all pulling together as a team."

One of those team members, Boeing Company FCS Program Manager Dennis Muilenburg, noted in remarks to reporters that "the major proof of that teamwork is that we are 27 months into a complex systems-development demonstration phase, and we are right on cost, right on schedule, and meeting all the performance requirements."

Fielding to be Staggered

Staying on schedule is important, Cartwright noted, since the Army intends to field each of the FCS constituent systems as it becomes ready.

"The Army is converting all its units to a modular organization," Cartwright said. "To be complete, that organizational design is waiting for the FCS systems and technologies to be delivered to the warfighters. The Army chief of staff asked us not to wait until the end of the program to deliver all the systems, but to deliver the technologies as they became available because the organizational design was already in place."

Systems Already Saving Lives

Schoomaker pointed out that FCS-generated technologies--most notably the portable Packbot robot--are already saving soldiers' lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Spinning out" other technologies as they mature will both enhance current-force units' combat capabilities and reduce soldiers' risks, he said.

Harvey said the insertion of selected FCS technologies into the current force, coupled with the ongoing development and fielding of FCS's range of constituent systems, will allow the Army to confront and defeat a learning, adaptive enemy across the entire range of military operations.

"Our modular formations, continuously enhanced by the insertion of FCS technologies, will ensure our soldiers and leaders have the capabilities they need to win decisively when and where the nation calls," he said.

Harvey: FCS Funding Vital

Given the vital importance of FCS to the Army's current and future capabilities, Harvey said, "it is critical that we keep the FCS program intact, and that it is not fragmented with the associated changes in funding."

Reductions in FCS funding could jeopardize the Army's combat capabilities, he said.

"Modernizing without the complete FCS program complicates management, could sacrifice capabilities, decreases integration, and increases costs," Harvey said. "Ultimately, changes to the program will cause greater development and life-cycle costs, and will push full fielding of the FCS further down the road at a time when our soldiers need it most."

Restructuring Reduces Costs

Schoomaker added that a restructuring of FCS last year reduced the program's cost from $34 billion to $25 billion, and that over the past several years the Army has terminated some 120 other programs to free up funding for FCS and help move the current force into brigade-based modular units.

"The fact of the matter is the nation's got to invest in its Army and it's got to do it on the strategic timelines that are required to develop and present these capabilities," Schoomaker said. "Can we afford not to do it?"

Steve Harding writes for Soldiers Magazine at Fort Belvoir, Va.
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Title Annotation:In the News
Author:Harding, Steve
Publication:Defense AT & L
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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