An Army poster designed to promote the Future Combat Systems.

Image courtesy U.S. Army

The Future Combat Systems (FCS) initiative is a massive overhaul of military technology intended to prepare the U.S. Army for modern warfare. Current projections suggest that it will be the most expensive military project in U.S. history and will take decades to design and complete. Creating the hardware, software, networks and integration necessary to make FCS work is an incredibly complicated project.

The Army wants to dominate the full-spectrum battlefield - land, sea and air. To accomplish this, it will need several different types of units. The Army must also link its operations with that of the other military branches, and the militaries of other nations that might join them in a coalition operation.

FCS is a "system of systems," because it actually comprises 18 separate systems. Each system is a type of unit, such as an unmanned artillery vehicle, a manned tank or a command and control vehicle. FCS is also sometimes called "18+1+1," where the "+1"s represent the network and the soldier who will utilize the systems. If the Army were simply revamping their military hardware and designing 18 new combat and logistics units, that would be a major project by itself. Designing all 18 from the ground up with the architecture to link every unit makes FCS truly revolutionary.

So why is the Army undertaking such a huge project? Military experts believe the nature of warfare is changing. Large-scale territory battles like those fought in World War II will disappear. Instead, the Army will probably face insurgencies and smaller conflicts spread out over wide areas. Tomorrow's Army needs the ability to deploy and redeploy as quickly as possible. To this end, the FCS has four main goals:

  1. Improve strategic agility An Army with large, inflexible units that take months to deploy can't react quickly enough or deal with all of the problems at hand. Some military analysts refer to this as "having a pocket full of $20 bills and a lot of $5 problems" [ref].
  2. Decrease the logistics footprint The logistics footprint represents the support crews, fuel, parts and ammunition needed to keep a unit operational. Long supply chains, large refueling vehicles and the need to set up large maintenance depots work against agility and makes the forces that they're attached to more vulnerable.
  3. Reduce operating and maintenance costs Creating multiple units based on the same basic structures allows for exchangeable parts and gives maintenance personnel the ability to repair a wider range of units with the same amount of training. This also contributes to a smaller logistics footprint and greater agility. The Army is focusing on smaller, lighter vehicles that are faster and more maneuverable. Instead of heavy armor, units will use stealth strategies and smaller profiles to reduce casualties. Lighter vehicles are also easier to transport and use less fuel. The Army will combine its efforts with other military branches and other nations. This makes the ability to communicate with coalition forces a vital facet of future warfare.
  4. Increase battlefield lethality and survivability Tomorrow's soldiers need to destroy their targets and survive attacks a greater percentage of the time. This reduces the number of units needed in any particular engagement, reduces the need for extensive reinforcements and eases the burden on medical and repair units.

We'll see how the Army plans to deal with these issues next.