Academic journal article Military Review

Equipping the Objective Force

Academic journal article Military Review

Equipping the Objective Force

Article excerpt

The need for strategic mobility

drives the weight issue and has prompted many suggestions on how to design a lethal, yet lightweight, combat system. Simply carrying fewer rounds because the cannon is accurate and using a smaller crew will make the FCS smaller. A smaller vehicle will have a smaller surface area to protect, will require less armor-with no sacrifice in thicknessand will be lighter with no revolutionary protection needed.

THE U. S. MILITARY, especially the Army, faces a dramatically different and uncertain strategic environment yet fields systems built for the last era. The Army's Cold War role was narrowly defined, requiring forward-deployed heavy armor to blunt massed armored assaults. Lightness meant death, and the Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs) and Bradley fighting vehicles used so successfully in the Gulf are the apogee of design built to win in that environment. The Army's familiar task of defending Western Europe and the Republic of Korea has given way to a global mission in which the Army must defeat a range of unspecified threats. The Army must deploy from the continental United States (CONUS), and the heavy systems built for the last era are ill-suited for this new role despite proven lethality and projected upgrades. Problems deploying units to Albania during Operation Allied Force in 1999 and the prospect of intervening in locations such as Rwanda have shown that for these types of missions, the heavy armor used in the Persian Gulf war so decisively is too heavy.

The ability to prevail in a Desert Storm-type campaign is still necessary, however, and reconciling these varied missions is the goal of the Objective Force. The new interim brigade combat teams (IBCTs) will test concepts of deploying as a light force yet prevailing as a heavy force on the road to the Army's Objective Force that will exploit the revolution in military affairs (RMA).1 Major General R. Steven Whitcomb, U.S. Army Chief of Armor, plans to equip the Objective Force with a future combat system (FCS) possessing "substantially improved strategic mobility and tactical agility, while maintaining overwhelming firepower and crew protection."2 It is not called a tank because the FCS is envisioned as a vehicle that will be part of a networkcentric force that blurs distinctions between combat branches and blends combat support with the combat branches.3 The Army must field an FCS to be lighter, faster, and more agile than the Cold War Army yet still meet threats in 2025. We are clearly asking too much of this envisioned FCS.

Weight reduction is mandatory, yet the FCS must have no less lethality and survivability than current systems.4 Envisioned capabilities include flying, tremendous sprint speed, self-healing attributes, and blasting or disabling weapons.5 A two-man crew is a goal.6 Crew maintenance and logistics should be minimized to avoid overwhelming the small crew with nonfighting duties. Even combat endurance will be difficult for a small crew. Automatic selfdefense is needed to protect a sleeping crew or one that is otherwise incapable of fighting.7 An external gun turret (EGT) that reduces weight and an advanced cannon are two features sometimes promoted.8

The Objective Force will exploit hybrid power systems; fuel consumption reductions of 75 percent; enhanced soldier performance; signature control; and advanced defenses, including active protection, new materials, alternative propellants, chemical and biological protection, and logistic efficiencies.9 Many of the technical objectives are not expected until 2013.10The FCS must be in production by around 2015.11

Although different authors project capabilities, some ordinary and some fantastic, the overall tenor of the debate has a science fair quality.12 If you could wish for a future combat vehicle, it would be nice to receive one that was beyond your wildest dreams. Reality is likely to be far less comforting in its ability to reconcile the Army's need for power and deployability. …

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