Send comments to:  editorG2mil@Gmail.com   We have space for most, but not all comments.   Let us know if you want us to include your organization and e-mail address.  Some letters may end up as content elsewhere in G2mil.  Avoid political comments, this is a weapons, warfare, and tactics website.

Future Combat Systems (FCS)

 The issue ought not to be whether or not we'll deploy 'new technologies.'  The question is whether this will be done via incremental upgrades to incorporate ready-for-prime-time sub-systems or by attempting to do EVERYTHING AT ONCE.  This second approach has been found to carry a great deal of technical risk in addition to being drawn out over decades in practice.  The history of this approach in the post-World War II era is not encouraging.   Take the M60/M-113 series of vehicles as an example.  These vehicles ended up serving from the late 1950s into the 1990s.  During this era Main Battle Tank 70 came and went.  After MBT-70 disappeared XM-1 appeared.  The end result was to stifle and starve many low cost but effective enhancements to existing equipment as being a waste of money.  That's because a New Generation of vastly superior systems was permanently guaranteed as being only 2-4 years away for 20-25 years.

LAND WARRIOR and Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) are two examples of ground up development programs from 1990s.  In comparison to FCS both these efforts were quite simple systems with modest technical goals.  And both were unmitigated failures. 

There is a myth that 'New Technology' development can be scheduled into the front end of an end item procurement program.  And I say myth because there are no recent examples of such programs completing anywhere close to the original schedule or in the original configuration.  People continue to believe this is possible mainly because Intel rolls out a new faster CPU every 2 years or so.  But because the promised development schedule is sold to Congress as a condition of getting funding it becomes rigid doctrine organization wide.  "This is what's being done" is the standard negative answer.  Thus there is once again a standing veto against incorporating immediately doable and effective upgrades into existing systems. 

All combat system concepts can be analytically tested at the outset against some basic criteria.  These are "Move", "Shoot", "Communicate" and "Survive".

Test One.  Movement.  A major cost driver of 'major' new equipment programs and also a major source of 'failure' is that we are often literally reinventing wheels in conjunction with incorporating advances in other areas.

Test Two.  Survive.  Survival can mean vehicle agility in tactical conditions and it can also mean the ability to shrug off fire.  In context this means either armor or other methods of preventing enemy weapons from hitting the equipment.

Tests One and Two should be the main criteria for deciding whether or not to undertake a clean sheet procurement program.  If the result from these two factors alone is not at least a 30% improvement then new hulls almost certainly ought not be embarked on.  Because these tests were not rigorously enforced we are now committed to a retrograde assault gun called the Stryker Mobile Gun System.  It's less mobile and less survivable than the M1 it is displacing.  The MGS exists not on its own merits.  Internal Army branch politics alone produced this useless retromingent system merely by autopilot.  The infantry got a new wheeled APC so, following 60 years of custom (M-3 half-track Sherman tank, M-59 APC - M48 Tank, M-113 APC -M60 Tank, Bradley FV - Abrams) the AGS is now rolling out.

Test Three.  Shoot.  The Army business in war time is about killing 'enemy' human beings and destroying their equipment.  Given this assumption a logical deduction is that new efforts should either yield weapons which are more lethal than the existing ones or should cause existing weapons to become more lethal because of improvements in target acquisition, guidance or logistics support.  If these new efforts cannot even conceptually offer this promise, then the solution is to overhaul and upgrade existing equipment, or order more units of existing equipment to replace worn-out weapons.  As an aside, Test Three is also Strike Three for the STRYKER AGS since it steps back to the 105mm M68 guns removed from the M-60 series.  It is theoretically possible (but not even publicly contemplated in FCS) that some new weapon offers such huge enhancements to existing lethality as to require a new set of tracks, wheels or blades to move it.

In absence of the above conditions being met, service system procurement programs need to focus on enhancing the performance of existing systems.  There is plenty of room for well defined 'X' projects to explore new concepts and develop and evaluate new technologies.  But these X-Programs need to have defined time periods, rigorous schedules and defined ending points at which the results are evaluated.  They should not and must not be identified as the front ends of something larger.

                                                                                                         Mark Gallmeier

Ed: The GAO issued this report skeptical of the FCS a month after my editorial appeared:

2. Defense Acquisitions: Improved Business Case Needed for Future Combat System's Successful Outcome. GAO-06-367, March 14. http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-06-367 Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d06367high.pdf

Moving Forward Going Backward

The spring 2006 editorial touched on some very important points about deficiencies in currently available US military equipment and argued, correctly I believe, that what is needed desperately is a small, versatile, relatively simple vehicle which would be more useful in the combat modes prevalent in places like Iraq.  Since the advent of military aviation, anti-aircraft weapons have always been employed in dual rolls with good reason.  Heavy machine guns in particular function superbly in both offensive and defensive situations against infantry, light armored vehicles and "soft" field fortifications. 

A weapon such as the Rhino also illustrates a trend that astute observers of military history are already well aware of.  Forward thinking military theorists of the 1930s saw the usefulness of the tank in future conflicts and began conceptualizing ways that it would be best employed.  By the middle of the Cold War the notions of fast mechanized warfare and deep operations involving thousands of heavy tanks dominated the military establishments of both superpowers and their surrogates.  Had a major war ever erupted during this period these principles would no doubt have formed the basis for all operational decisions.  However, "low-intensity" warfare of the variety common over the past 60 years has rendered moot much of the strength possessed by nations like the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Not surprisingly, adapting to the demands of insurgency has proved difficult for modern industrialized military forces thrust into situations where "set-piece" battles were rare.  While some blame must lie with those who fail to adapt, an equal amount of credit must be given to those who had the vision to conceive effective means of making war against seemingly overwhelming odds.  The American proclivity for relying on technology tends to blind us to the possibly utility of simple and low-tech solutions to military problems.

The Rhino, based on the information you've presented, could be an incredible attribute as an infantry support vehicle. However, the very fact that they are low-tech very likely makes them less attractive to the people at the Pentagon.  Perhaps time and experience will alter this perception because, as history has shown, the side that prevails in war is the side which employs the most effective weapons, not necessarily the most advanced.

                                                                                                          Luke Swinson

Caseless Ammo BS

The H&K G11 article is the usual sales pitch for ‘caseless ammo’ and contains nothing new beyond the pap that I’ve been reading for over 30 years.  Caseless ammo, like telescoped ammo, is just another hobby program for U.S. arsenal engineers and foreign companies who want to tap Uncle Sam’s treasury.  The article cites the advantages of caseless ammo but gives nothing of its disadvantages. I lack the time to write another expose of caseless, but will send, if you wish, a satirical paper that I wrote on the Subject some 20+ years ago.

                                                                                                             Don Loughlin

Caseless Failure

The linked article about the Heckler & Koch G11 was an interesting read.  There are other reasons the G11 did not get adopted, discussed in The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons (third edition) in the chapter "Trends Full Auto & Beyond," by Jim Dickson: 

"The gun is sealed so carefully, because its Swiss watch insides can't take any dirt. The complexity of the mechanism is unprecedented. It is completely unsuited for hard combat use. "The H&K entry uses a caseless cartridge instead of a conventional brass cartridge case. After 2500 rounds, the chamber of the H&K fired in the Army test had to be replaced. The claims made for the new caseless round are excessive, at best.  In one test in Germany, the caseless rounds were immersed in water and fired with only slight loss of power. Four hours! Whoever thought that was a test never has seen combat in jungles or swamps, where conventional ammo can be wet for days with no loss of power. "The gun itself is an overcomplicated design. Its boxlike exterior encloses a spring-mounted recoil absorber like an artillery piece, totally separate from the gun's operating mechanism.. The gun feeds from a top-mounted magazine that requires the breech cylinder to rotate ninety degrees into loading position and ninety degrees back to firing mechanism. I have never encountered a more complicated mechanism, or one more ill-suited for combat." 

I would add that many consider the 5.56 mm NATO round too small for an infantry rifle, and by this reasoning, the G11's 4.7 mm cartridge would be a step backward. 

                                                                                                              Phillip Park

Ed: After poor reports of 5.56mm effectiveness in Iraq, the Army spun out new excuses.  One report concluded that the 5.56mm is very effective when fired at an enemy's center body mass, where it can instantly incapacitate a man by striking his heart or spine.  It recommended more marksmanship training.  This assumes that no enemy will wear body armor.  Some experts were surprised that small high-velocity 5.56mm rounds sometimes passed through the body of thin combatants causing just a minor injury.

Other Editor Comments