FCS Not Killed: Casey

Contradicting recent press reports saying the entire FCS program -- not just the vehicles -- had been cancelled by OSD, Army Chief Gen. George Casey told the SASC today that was not the case and that the rest of the program will go forward following restructuring. Casey said he tried but ultimately was unable to convince SecDef Gates that the Army had built enough protection against IEDs into the FCS vehicles.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Army Chief Gen. George Casey said the FCS program had not yet been terminated, contradicting recent press reports. Speaking at a Washington event, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter said yesterday that DoD cancelled the entire FCS program, not just the manned ground vehicles. Casey told lawmakers that was not the case (the hearing webcast can be viewed here).

“The FCS program was not terminated. It was the manned ground vehicle portion that was terminated. Everything else continues to go forward,” albeit after the program has once again been restructured, Casey said.

Asked by SASC chair Senator Carl Levin whether he agreed with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision to cancel the FCS vehicles, Casey said: “I supported it; I did not agree with it.” The fundamental point of disagreement, he said, was whether the vehicle design included sufficient protection against IEDs.

Battlefield experience in Iraq showed that flat bottomed vehicles with low ground clearance, such as the Humvee, were ill-protected against IEDs because the flat bottom created a gas trap that concentrated, rather than dissipated, the blast. The V-shaped hull on the MRAP class of vehicles, a design borrowed from South African wheeled troop carriers, is designed to deflect the blast outwards and away from the crew compartment.

“The original design of the vehicle, and we need to be upfront with this, when we started designing the FCS program, it was designed to fight conventional wars, we thought conventional war would be fought in the 21st century. That’s clearly changed,” Casey said. That’s a pretty big admission as the previous Army leadership for years claimed FCS was designed to fight conventional and irregular wars, when it obviously wasn’t, and Casey deserves credit for his candor.

“The original design was a flat bottomed vehicle that was 18 inches off the ground. That was clearly not survivable in this environment. And so we built a V-shaped hull kit and we added onto the vehicle the capability to raise it and lower it,” so that it would fit inside a cargo aircraft, Casey said. “When it came down to the end of it I could not convince the secretary that we had done enough.”

“We have already begun building a new [vehicle] design,” Casey said, and the Army is focusing on a 5 to 7 year production goal for the new vehicles. Ranking member Senator John McCain said what concerned him most about FCS was the program’s 45 percent cost overruns. “With those kind of cost overruns we won’t be buying many of them.” Casey said the cost overruns were largely due to the Army increasing FCS program requirements to take into account lessons emerging from current wars and incorporate new technologies.

In the meantime, the acquisition system continues to grind on, no matter the status of the program. Boeing announced today that FCS passed its Systems of Systems Preliminary Design Review. The release is full of the usual acquisition mumble but does include the interesting information that review “validated that the designs for all FCS systems and subsystems, including the network, sensors, weapons and manned and unmanned vehicles, meet current requirements and will function as an integrated system of systems.” Given that much of that equipment will be incorporated on whatever the new ground vehicle is, that matters. According to the Boeing release, “the review proved that a family of networked systems will provide greater combat capabilities, including enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, across the full spectrum of conflict.” Now if the Army didn’t know that already then something was terribly wrong with the whole system.

Boeing’s FCS program manager, Gregg Martin, said the review “marks a major milestone for the program.” Well, sort of. But it’s not as big a milestone as Gates’ decision to cancel MGV.