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Another View

June 1, 2001

Skipping a Generation of Weapons

I want to take this opportunity to comment on some developments here in DC as we move toward the final stages of the DOD review of our armed forces.

Recently, I came across this paper. I was impressed with the author's thoughts and wanted to share them with you.

Why "Skipping a Generation" of Weapon Systems is Not a Good Idea

Some have proposed that we "skip a generation" of weapon systems currently in development or production. This proposition appears to have two aims: first, terminating badly needed Army systems nearing production; second, eliminating modernization and life extension of currently fielded systems. Critics say that these systems were developed for the cold war and are no longer relevant for the strategy, forces and equipment to meet 21st century needs. Ostensibly, the purpose of skipping this generation of systems would be to make financial room for the "next generation" of systems that would be developed specifically to fit the department's emerging vision of a transformed military.

The Army has already skipped at least a generation; it hasn't fielded a new major combat platform in many years. After production of the "big five" systems (Abrams, Bradley, Patriot, Apache and Blackhawk) in the 1980s, the Army has contributed over $100 billion to the peace dividend by not replacing these platforms (and other needed systems) with a follow-on generation of systems.

During the draw down after the cold war, the Army killed 40 weapon system programs in the early '90s and significantly stretched many others to free money to product improve and extend the life of fielded systems. We effectively improved these systems to leverage information technology for situational awareness and improved battlefield C3I. This process is far from complete and continued investment is required for the rest of our fielded forces while we evolve over the next three decades to the so-called Objective Force. Even under optimistic planning assumptions, the Objective Force will not be completely fielded until 2032.

As a part of this long-term evolution, the Army is in the process of converting both heavy and light brigades to an interim force of Interim Brigade Combat Teams (IBCTs) equipped with off-the-shelf modified LAV III based Interim Armored Vehicles (IAV). This procurement, planned over the next several years, will provide the National Command Authority and warfighting CINCs a flexible early-entry capability with more deployability than current heavy forces and more combat power than current light forces. For a considerable period of time, where Army forces are concerned, we will task-organize for the contingency at hand and use strategic lift assets (air and fast sealift) to rapidly project the force needed to accomplish the mission. The first IAV-based IBCT will enter into the force in CY03. These IBCTs form a mid-term force and are not intended to replace the decisive warfighting capability of our modernized counterattack corps. Similarly, the airborne corps requires continued modernization to remain relevant and capable over the decades ahead. In addition to modernizing our currently fielded forces, and fielding new IAVs, some systems currently in development such as Comanche and Crusader represent important keys to the success of the Army's next generation objective force.

Comanche will be the "digital quarterback" during and after the three-decade evolution of the Army to its Objective Force. Improved situational awareness and command and control provided by Comanche will be key to force effectiveness. The current scout helicopter, the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, badly needs to be replaced and cannot meet the information needs of either today's or tomorrow's Army. A revolution in rotary wing technology for the Army, Comanche will also be a technology carrier for future Army Aviation modernization. Although unmanned reconnaissance systems will proliferate over the next 30 years, the Army will continue to need a mix of manned and unmanned reconnaissance systems to fully meet all its mission requirements.

Crusader's unique responsiveness, speed, range, rate of fire, survivability, reduced logistics footprint, deployability and modern command and control, provide all-weather continuous fire support across the spectrum of conflict. Its added effectiveness reduces the number of howitzers needed and each howitzer has a smaller crew. This translates into a reduced requirement for strategic lift and system manpower. Crusader is an example of a clear need to skip a generation and the Army has set out to do that with the support of Congress. Rather than introducing a new platform in the 1980s with the big five, we chose for affordability to upgrade the M-109 howitzer to the A6 Paladin configuration. Desert Storm showed that we really need a modern artillery system able to keep up with mechanized forces. As a result Congress directed in the early '90s that Crusader be accelerated.

The Army has already reduced the number of howitzers in cannon battalions from 24 to 18 and was able to withdraw 24% of the combat platforms and 17% of its manpower from the divisions in the counterattack corps in anticipation of the tremendous increase in firepower attendant to Crusader fielding. Crusader, like Comanche, provides an additional benefit to the Army in that it is also a technology carrier not only for a dramatically new fire support system, but the broader ground combat vehicle technology for our Future Combat System -- the centerpiece of the objective force. The state-of-the art cockpit, the interface of man-machine information fusion and advanced structural materials, to only name a few, serve as a technology bridge to the Future Combat System.

Likewise, the Abrams Systems Enhancement Program (SEP) and the Bradley A3 soon to enter production are other examples of technology bridges to the future as well as important improvements to the counterattack force. The digitized Abrams and Bradley are helping a whole new generation of Army soldiers and leaders learn how to fight in the new information age. New technology, new tactics, new doctrine and new organizations must be learned. A trained and ready objective force will not happen overnight. What we learn with the advent of the first digitized division, the digitized counterattack corps and the new medium interim IBCTs will be essential to our development of Objective Force concepts and design and the associated materiel requirements for the Future Combat System.

Any change to our National Military Strategy and the programs to implement it must take into account the industrial base. The industrial base, both public and private, is a by-product of continuing activity in the systems and technologies of interest. The gap created by the concept of generation skipping becomes a threat to the viability of critical elements of our base. Truncating current program activity and relying on only RDTE to maintain the base is extremely high risk. Skills, processes and facilities needed to get systems successfully into production will be lost. In addition, there is no longer an insurance policy in the event that the skipped generation systems take longer than anticipated to be introduced into the force. Additionally, the lack of a warm base significantly reduces our flexibility to respond in periods of crisis with technology insertions and expanded sustainment support. While this would be mitigated somewhat if our base is producing for a foreign customer, diverting spares or skilled labor from a foreign customer would be problematic for industry. And for any system that we decide to terminate and skip a generation, we would forfeit that FMS market and potential for influence to other nations. These concerns suggest that a more balanced approach to evolve our force would be prudent for the nation. Skipping a generation of Army systems is simply an avoidance of a needed investment over time to ensure that we have the base to support dominance in land warfare. This runs counter to one of the top five priorities announced by new administration's Defense Acquisition Executive.

In summary, our National Military Strategy requires we maintain a current warfighting capability while simultaneously investing in the next generation. This does not have to mean "business as usual" but it does require a careful strategy of balanced investments in capability. There are no procurement or readiness "holidays" for our soldiers on duty around the world. We must always be prepared to fight and win across the complete spectrum of conflict -- today and tomorrow. This mandate will not diminish. As the only superpower without a current peer competitor, a window of opportunity indeed does exist to begin transformation of our armed forces. But this transformation but must be evolutionary so that we do not at any time place at risk our ability to protect our vital national interests or place soldiers in harms way with equipment overmatched by any potential adversary.

The above discussions point to the following conclusions. The term legacy forces has been misunderstood. Legacy systems are not historical, they are simply what the Army has now, and are the product of carefully planned improvements to keep them viable. Some, such as Kiowa Warrior and Paladin, will leave the inventory in the near future because they have reached the end of their useful lives. However, the improved big five and other important contributors to current warfighting capability will of necessity continue in the inventory for many years and might more properly be called bridging systems -- helping the new IAV based IBCTs to bridge the gap until the objective force is definitized and its systems fielded.

I wanted you to have this perspective to use in whatever manner you feel appropriate.

We believe that as a part of the QDR risk assessment, the warfighters are likely to support the approach suggested in this paper when they address land combat power requirements over time. The United States Army is an important member of the defense team and we feel a portion of the existing force must be recapitalized and modernized.


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