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FCS Out — What’s In?

by Ward Carroll on April 9, 2009

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One thing I’m curious about is what Gates said this week on the Army’s vehicle modernization program and, specifically, his line:

“The current vehicle program, developed nine years ago, does not include a role for our recent $25 billion investment in the MRAP vehicles being used to good effect in todays conflicts.“

In canceling the FCS ground vehicle program, Gates seemed to be saying there would be a role for the MRAP as a replacement for some FCS ground vehicle variants. That worries me a bit because as has been well documented here, the MRAP is of very limited use in most tactical situations and can be more of a detriment to a counterinsurgency than a help.

There’s been some more scuttle butt on this over at a well known loop that I’m not able to reveal to protect sources, but the back and forth has been whether the MRAP could be replaced by more Strykers. Michael Yon is arguing that the Stryker fits the bill in most of the situations that MRAPs were used for in Iraq and now in Afghanistan with more firepower and better all-terrain capability.

As someone who’s spent some time in Iraq in Strykers (and Bradleys) in Iraq I’d have to agree with Yon that the vehicle is pretty damned awesome and adaptable as heck. I agree with Yon that the MRAP could have a role in securing and convoy escort along MSRS and other LOCs. But I also see an enduring role for up-armored Humvees and the coming era of the JLTV. Of all the tactical vehicle modernization programs in the works, it’s the JLTV that I believe has the most promise and enduring effect.

Buy more Strykers with the latest bad-ass weapons systems, armor and C2 gear; kick up the JLTV program and keep the MRAPs for route clearance and escort and we should be good until it’s time to replace the Bradleys and M1s…and those should be fun ones to watch.

PS– I have contacted the Army on when it will release its service budget with specific programs and dollar figures. Apparently, Gates’ announcement was just that — an announcement of “priorities” and not the formal budget roll-out which officials say will come in early-to-mid May. Then we’ll get the R1s, P1s and other documents with specifics on who gets what.

And a source tells me he thinks the services might be going back to the drawing board:

Looks like SECDEF is going to force their hand. Frankly, I think both services are probably reviewing their plans in light of SECDEFs budget announcement this week, the upcoming QDR, and fiscal pressures that will call into question any major acquisition program.

– Christian

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Schrott April 9, 2009 at 10:23 am

Our people should’ve started work on replacements for the M-1/M-2 years ago… i know the FCS but none of those were going to be “game changers” like the M-1 was. Now every major player has a MBT that is as good as, if not better than, the Abrams. We can upgrade it to death but once the bad guys came up with ways to defeat it, we needed a replacement. The Bradley still has some time left on it’s clock but that is winding down.
From what i could tell about the FCS, it was doomed years ago… keep the NLOS-C but everything else needed tossed in the hopper. The US REALLY has to re-think how war is made and come up with more versatile equipment for our boys… the Strykers being a nice stop gap but too lightly armored to even face a medium APC.
just my thoughts.

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jjdc April 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

I think you mean early/mid May for the full budget rollout…

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Bob April 9, 2009 at 11:26 am

I agree with the previous posters thought on that we may want to begin looking at the early thinking on replacing the M2, but completely disagree with the assessment on the M1.
The M1′s biggest deficifency is its fuel consumption. Other than that it still remains a system w/o compare when it comes to speed, agility, protection and firepower WHEN combined with the numbers we can field and our ability to support in the field.
No other country, even the Russians, can field a vehicle that is comparable in any numbers that would tip the scales in their favor in large scale manuever warfare armored engagements.
No significant advancements in armour technology or weapons systems have been made to my knowledge/in my opinion that would warrant a new MBT design. How much bigger of a cannon would/can you fit over a 120mm that is practical in terms of weight vs. lenght vs. penetration power? Unless you move to an electro-magnetic (railgun) concept which at this time is still way out of reach to fit on something like an MBT chasis.
If we really want an active countermeasure systems like the Israeli’s use we can retrofit. No need for an all new platform.
No, I believe the M1 will remain King of the Battlefield (sorry to any Arty types) for the time to come.
Thoughts from others?

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soonergrunt April 9, 2009 at 11:52 am

The new JLTV when it comes on line, and Strykers should be a good mix. That’s going to depend on what capabilities JLTV finally has, especially vis a vis weapon systems.
I don’t know how useful Strykers will be in the parts of Afghanistan I was in last time–Kapisa, Laghman, Nangarhar, Kunar, Wardak provinces. Lots of mountains and roads that would be called goat trails if one is intentionally insulting goat trails. M1117 Guardians would work well there and have very useful firepower with the two-gun turret.
The Bradley and Abrams are in good shape for now and the near future-next 10-15 years. Nobody that we’re likely to have to fight has anything that can beat them.

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Christian April 9, 2009 at 11:58 am

Thanks jjdc…fixed…

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brent April 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm

What is an R1 or P1?

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Schrott April 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Ok, i see your point BUT the M-1′s has been disected by our enemies/allies/enemies since Desert Storm. They’ve had plenty of time to look at the ones knocked out in Iraq. I’m not saying that is isn’t effective or that it won’t be for the next ten years but every major player is either making their MBT’s equal to or better than the Abrams (aka The LeClerc, T-90, Leopard II)or are developing AT weapons PURPOSE MADE to take it out. There HAS been advances in armor, thanks to the FCS and those new avnues should be explored.
My concern is that the M-1 is getting a bit long in the tooth and i really don’t care if it’s the baddest MBT on the block… if it breaks down, then it’s nothing more than a high dollar pillbox.

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Brian April 9, 2009 at 1:08 pm

The M1 is still the baddest tank around, and the safest place on a battlefield is inside an Abrams. Can they be destroyed? Yes. But nobody has the capabilities to really challenge the Abrams. Where M1s go, the enemy dies. Should we replace it? As far as I know, there aren’t any advances out there that we haven’t already put on the Abrams. Best I can tell, there’s nothing to replace it with. It’s still the height of armor technology.

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Byron Skinner April 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Good Morning Christian,
I don’t think you show have to worry about the future of the MRAP. As they are used up in the current war they won’t be replaced, I would guess a couple of thousand will end up in Kuwait storage lots to keep a supply as hedge in theatre, the rest will end up as transfers to the Iraqi and other Governments that will take them off our hands. For an historical example of another flawed vehicle that was used during wartime but didn’t make it into the U.s. Army post war are the M-2 and M-3.
The Army and Marines by rejecting the FCS has created a blank sheet of paper for new systems for 21st. Century warfare. To systems that are currently either operational or in development stages are the Pack Bot and the Swords Weapons Platform. Both have seem service in Iraq and Afghanistan and have strong positive support by the troops who have used them in combat.
The Sword Weapons Platform is in evolved to the point that it has more combat power then the Tank did in the late 1930′s. Including the German Pz Kpfw.I, Models (A B or C). These were the main armor used in the Blitz of the Low Countries and France 1939 and 1940.
ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Greg April 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

I think most people miss the scope of the FCS vehicles. I’m not sure if they do as advertised, but a medium force isn’t a bad idea when mixed with a heavy force. I was under the impression that the army wanted to keep the Abraham’s around, while still creating the fcs brigrades. I think overall they still will be produced, reason being is they have already been developed. It makes 100% economic sense for us to make the whole line of vehicles as they are all based on the same chasis.
Another option would be to make a medium tank out of the bradley, as well as other varients. I don’t know how much you save with regards to r&d since the mortar, canon, and mcs torrent have all been manufactured, why waste time and go back to the drawing board.
The deficiences that gates speaks of is an inherent problem with designing new vehicles. It seems to me, as if they want to stop us making top shelf weapon systems. The M! initially had problems, hence it got a german gun. Also, the m2 had numerous problems too. Not that I think the FCS vehiciles would be good for air assault, they seem perfect for urban areas with there sensors. 70 tons is a bit heavy for most bridges to say the least, where the FCS would be able to drive over bridges.
I just don’t get the concept of gearing up to fight this current war. If we are going to be out within 2-5 years, does that really warrant a rethink in the defense department with regards to war, or are we too singularly focused on these a-symetrical threats. Once the m-atv’s go to Afghanistan, what else do we need to develop? They are already planing numerous more drones and such. Why not just put the fcs on hold or delay roll out until we are out of the war.

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soonergrunt April 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

@Greg
The problem with the FCS vehicles is that with the exception of the NLOS-C vehicle, they don’t exist, even in prototype form.
The first FCS units were supposed to be IOC two years ago, but all we have is one or two prototypes of one of the many FCS systems.
Yes, programs have teething pains, but this particular program doesn’t even have gums.
Meanwhile, MRAP, which seems to work pretty good in Iraq doesn’t work very well in Afghanistan because most of the units are too big and top-heavy for what passes for roads in Afghanistan.

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Schrott April 9, 2009 at 2:38 pm

“The M1 is still the baddest tank around, and the safest place on a battlefield is inside an Abrams. Can they be destroyed? Yes. But nobody has the capabilities to really challenge the Abrams. Where M1s go, the enemy dies. Should we replace it? As far as I know, there aren’t any advances out there that we haven’t already put on the Abrams. Best I can tell, there’s nothing to replace it with. It’s still the height of armor technology…”
Haven’t done much in the way of research, huh, Brian? You might want to check the tanks listed in my last post. I’m talking about planning for the future… which the FCS was SUPPOSED to be doing. Unless you want to wait until the enemy has hover tanks with particle beams.

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Schrott April 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm

BTW, all. I’m not knocking the M1… covering fire from one saved my A-team’s ass during Storm. I’m just stating that the M1 is 30 years old and we really need to start looking at replacing the old warwagon with something or at least have something waiting in the wings. The M1 is like the A-10… old but still bad ass. Will it be easy to replace either? NO, but you have to start sometime or get left behind.

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Will April 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Agree it sounds like Gates needs to be educated on the limitations of the MRAP. He will a stiff drink, make that a double, no a triple, after he correlates that with how much have been spent on them. Somewhat surprising. Agree with him or not, no doubt he’s a sharp guy.
The M1/M2/M3 replacements are being put off for the next pres. Next pres after BO’s 2nd term.
There were a variety of ideas for tanks floating around at the end of the Cold War, most moving the crew from the turret to the hull. Not sure if that makes sense anymore. The trend for infantry vehicles has been either wheels (Stryker) or a tank chassis (Achzerit)

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Brian April 9, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Schrott, I’m familiar with the tanks you listed. With our current upgrade packages, I’d take the Abrams over any of them. Plus, there’s nothing new with those vehicles, design wise, that we need to incorporate into a tank that the Abrams doesn’t already have. It’s not like a jet fighter where advances in avionics makes the airframe itself outdated. Plus, even if those vehicles are comparable to the M1, we have many many more. I’m not worried at all about the Abrams being outclassed by a T-90. Especially when the thing barely qualifies as being in production.

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JH April 9, 2009 at 7:30 pm

WTF! We (America) look like morons, starting these big programs and then canceling them… Stick it out. You might just like what you get.

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JH April 9, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Gates is easily the worst SecDef EVER. DefenseTech should even do a poll on this.

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Rhyno327 April 10, 2009 at 8:31 am

Send a couple Stryker Brgds to A-stan, send tanks to the south too, where the terrain is suitable. The Canadians are using Leo II’s, and the muj run like hell. Armor where it can be used, where it is needed.

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Greg April 10, 2009 at 9:27 am

@soonergrunt
You are correct that actual prototypes haven’t been made for all models, but we need to keep in mind they all share the same chassis. With that said, You almost have a functioning mcs (tank replacement) already. The turrent has already been developed, and since the nloc has a prototype, you could just mount the mcs turrent to the nlos hull, which is the programs intent anyways. I hear people talking about the FCS armor, but it seems adaquate to me especially if you include reactive tiles, and and aps. It also has something the abrams doesn’t in that you can mount an underbelly v protection kit. The point being, cancelling these vehicles is stupid. A. we don’t have anything else on the drawing board, and B. All technologies need time to mature. The manned ground vehicles seem the way to go, since we already did most of the hard R&D on it.
I do think we need to negoitiate a better deal on the vehicles, but putting them out in increments, you know the nloc first then the mcs, and so on make a whole lot of sense. You don’t have to design a whole new chassis. Like I said, if we don’t go down this route then we should look at moving the fuel tanks out of bradleys, which should have been done years ago, and automating the torrent, and making it modular. Lets have different torrents for different variants. The only thing is the FCS’s power plant and design actually look much better. It does seem wiser to put everyone in the hull, contrariy to someone else’s comment. Much easier to armor that. The power plant is an generator, which gives you allot of options in the future. One thing that comes to mine is an electromagnetic shield. Yea it sounds like science fiction, but they have made some functional copies already, so maybe 20 years from now the fcs a2 or 3 can have it. We do need to plan for the future.

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Byron Skinner April 10, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Good Morning Folks,
I think the point of Sec. Gates statement was missed here. The FCS is DEAD. In the future their may be another attempt at redesigning and bidding some of it’s ground combat elements, but thats in the future, maybe.
The Stryker is a dead issue. The Army doesn’t consider it a combat vehicle and has certified it only for the lowest of threat conditions. Most of if not all Stryker units will find their way into the National Guard and assigned to Northern Command. Any deployment of Stryker into a combat theatre is problematic. They have been tried in Afghanistan and found way to heavy and big for the existing roads and are to soft skinned to be in an area where PGR’s are likely.
I can paraphrase and quote from what a Company Commander serving in Iraq said where “Scooby Do”, a bot, who got wasted by and IED. It’s a sad day, we all will miss ole’ Scooby , but “When a robot dies, you don’t have to write a letter to his mother.
In all likely hood, like with the manned bomber, we have seen the last manufacture of heavy manned armored fighting vehicles. The future has over run the past.
ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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JH April 10, 2009 at 11:49 pm

TB, I think they did a test fire for the FCS “tank” main gun a couple years ago. I believe it is called an ETC gun or something like that. Its supposed to use electronics to get a better burn out of the gun powder. Something like a 3 mile range as compared to the current 2 miles.

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JH April 10, 2009 at 11:56 pm

“A key enabler to the MRAAS s capabilities, Electrothermal Chemical (ETC) gun propulsion, is a hybrid propulsion concept that uses electrical energy, in the form of plasma, to initiate / augment / control the release of chemical energy from high-energy, high loading density propellants. ETC technology requires modest amounts of electrical energy (50 450 kJ, depending on application) in millisecond(s)-length pulses to replace the conventional powder ignition system. This technology provides for a more efficient and effective utilization of chemical gun technology enhancing system performance and lethality.” – GlobalSecurity.Org

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JH April 11, 2009 at 12:05 am

NLOS-C driving around at low speed
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNi9L5Lfc8M

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ETphonehome April 11, 2009 at 11:31 am

If or when is the army going to field an M1A3?

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Byron Skinner April 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Good Evening Folks,
I concede TB, Stryker is the best thing that has happened to the Army since the adoption of the .30 round in 1903. The pont that I was attempting to make before we got side tracked was that the era of manned combat vehicles is coming to an end.
For what ever, Stryker is in the inventory, and as far as I know production of the Stryker in London Ontario Canada is complete.
For those of you interested in UFV’s there are two historical footnotes that might shed some light on things to come in the field. Both are from Nazi Germany in WWII.
First is a remotely controlled 4.5 ton tracked vehicle called Goliath, it was a tracked bomb that could carry 800 lbs. of explosives and was wrapped in 8mm armor plate.
Second is a radio controlled called B-IV. B-IV was a 2.5 ton tracked vehicle that carries 661 lbs. of explosives. Like the Goliath it was wrapped in 8mm armor plate. The remarkable thing was that it could be radio controlled for 2000 meters.
Although both only enjoyed limited success in the field, they were prone to mechanical and electrical failures and the American soldiers quickly found the .50 cal. machine gun turned the thin 8mm plate into steel shreds, it is remarkable that their design appears to be what the first generation of UFV’s will look like in the 21st. Century.
ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Recon-Team April 13, 2009 at 11:22 am

I agree that we should get started on a replacement for the Abrams, Bradley, and Paladin. Possibly on a common chassis. The only problem would be that the engine on the new MBT would have to be in the front hull.
While the I don’t agree with all of Gates about the MRAP issue, the FCS manned vehicles were taking too long to develop and would have ended up overpriced. This is quite unfortunate however, because they could have been quite capable vehicles and used to equip several divisions along the lines of Stryker units. Didn’t the FCS vehicles have v-shaped hulls like the MRAPs Gates said FCS made no role for?

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Buzz April 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm

The Stryker is a piece of crap. They will be trashed in Afghanistan where they can’t drive full speed everywhere on hard ball roads. The Stryker platform was intened to be an armored Taxi and illsuited for combat. The BTR series vehicles are better suited for combat and the Soviets lost 1300 of them the first year in Afghanistan. They replaced them with BMP’s and losses went way down.
Strykers cannot go into unemproved roads with soft dirt. They tend to get stuck. They cant turn and generally don’t hol;d up well. See how long the vehicle lasts if someone throws a cup of gas on a tire and ignites it or walks up close and puts a clip of armor piercing rounds at point blank range from an AKM into the drivers compartment. Currnetly many strykers have to have extensive repairs performed on them before they go to anniston for a complete rebuild from driving up and down the Iraqi highways.

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Buzz April 13, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I should have added that the 120mm mortar cannot be fired while mounted in the stykers as it tends to crack the hulls and they still haven

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Charlie April 21, 2009 at 12:07 pm

All bureaucies tend to make complicated messes out of simple needs. Let the commanders in the field tell the Congress and the SecDef what they need in a vehicle, reason why, and expected results and keep the needs unfiltered to the contract. For example: We need a vehicle that can travel 60 mph. We need a vehicle that can withstand a RPG fired from a SAW. Keeping high level requirements at the combatant commander level is a must. Today the high level KPP (Key Performance Parameters) get bogged down in fights over the color of the vehicle, the type of material, the specific software line of code,etc. That constance hazzling over detailed requirements decomposing is adding the billions onto the cost plus contracts. PMO must be required to stay out of the contractor’s engineering offices and let the contractor design and build the model and as long it meets the end requirement, let it be. Make the design and development time one year or less and if it is not done, terminate, withold fee and move on, just like every other state of the rt company is doing today. It is time for the pentagon to get with the new business model cycle of new products to the market place. the cell phone and softwre companies of today are good examples. Fast acquistion turn arounds are needed today just as the OIF and OEF have shown us. Soldiers were given money to put together the horses, blankeets, rifles , etc., under a special authority to buy what they needed just as the merchants did in the revolutionary war, look at the results, we WON!!! Simple straught no BS requirements for our new vehicles and a short procurement time.

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