U.S. Must Improve Technological Edge

Posted May 20, 2007 at 11:00pm

The United States is the world leader in the realm of technological development in almost every aspect of society. After World War II, we devoted time and massive investments in research and development at both the private and public levels. This investment enabled us to leap ahead of our global competitors to assume a role of pre-eminence throughout the world.

During the Cold War, America achieved military superiority through the development of cutting-edge technologies that remained years, and in some cases decades, ahead of the Soviets and the rest of the world. The creation of the Strategic Air Command, the expansion of our nuclear submarine fleet and the advent of Special Forces all contributed to our competitive advantage in national security and in ensuring the safety of our allies. While most of our weapons were never used, their mere existence created a substantial deterrent that staved off a third world war.

Although the Cold War is over and the threat of full-scale high intensity warfare has largely receded, we must continue to advance our military and improve our technological edge. We cannot afford to lapse in our commitment to military advancement. Doing so would create a dangerous gap in our capabilities that would leave us vulnerable to emerging states such as China as well as rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea. These states would quickly prey upon any weaknesses. That is why the Future Combat Systems program is so important. FCS represents the next generation of land warfare, and it must be supported by Congress.

The opening years of the 21st century have presented our military with a significant challenge that requires a complete change in the way we view our military posture. Instead of preparing to fight large, classically structured armies as we have in the past, the U.S. Army must evolve to counter the threats of terrorism, low-intensity insurgency and asymmetric warfare. To do this, we need a modular, integrated and highly deployable force that can be committed anywhere in the world at any time to meet and defeat any threat.

FCS integration allows us this much-needed flexibility. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the architect of the FCS program, envisioned it as a force that could “outsmart and outmaneuver heavier enemy forces on the battlefield.” This would be accomplished through the implementation of net-centric warfare, a fully networked and seamlessly integrated force of soldiers, vehicles and unmanned aerial assets tied into an overarching communications system providing for the real-time sharing of crucial information to cut through the fog of war and obtain complete situational awareness.

Think about it for a moment. Nearly every household in the United States has some form of Internet access. Many of these Internet connections are increasingly being made through Wi-Fi networks. Why shouldn’t our military have the same ease of communication in battle? FCS will provide our soldiers, both mounted and dismounted, the ability to instantly search out, identify, engage and destroy the enemy through secure, high-speed communications equipment.

Moreover, FCS will bring new and improved manned and unmanned vehicles to the battlefield that will work as a force multiplier for our soldiers in combat. For example, the new family of manned ground vehicles will be based on a single design with many models, from reconnaissance to direct fire support. They will be lightweight but still offer the lethality and survivability equivalent to today’s heavy armored force.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that the message is not getting through to Congress. There have been recent attempts in Congress to cut funding from the FCS program citing that the Army has more crucial priorities that need to be addressed and that portions of the program are lagging behind. Unfortunately, I feel that this is shortsighted and should be rectified.

One of the arguments made against FCS is that the Army needs to focus on spending money on the modernization of our current force. However, this argument falls flat when you apply it to the nature of the FCS program. FCS is not contingent on any one system. Instead, the program is made up of 18 individual systems that can be prioritized depending on their timeline for completion or level of need.

In February, FCS restructured itself to provide room for the Defense Department to concentrate on equipping the current force to take on the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the major reforms made to FCS was to extend the fielding phase of the 15 expected FCS combat brigades by five years, which resulted in an overall cost reduction of $700 million. In short, the FCS program already has shown an ability to change to meet the current demands on our military.

National security remains the most important responsibility of Congress. We cannot modernize our current force without preparing for the future. The nature of the threats we will face in the near future demands the flexibility provided by FCS.

The FCS program represents the next step in the evolution of modern warfare, combining the evolution of wireless communications with the next generation of manned and unmanned vehicles to support our war fighters. Now is not the time to put the FCS program in limbo. Instead, it’s time for Congress to put its full backing behind the program and fund its development.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee.