Congress eyes defense cuts
The Army's multibillion-dollar modernization program, the Future Combat System, faces serious challenge this year.
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One of the most vocal appropriators in Congress, Rep. John Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania echoed Secretary Gates' comments to an audience Thursday. Mr. Murtha, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and chairs its defense subcommittee, said he, too, doubts the program can be completed.Skip to next paragraph
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"[The Army] is doing it so slowly that they never get there," he said during remarks for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. "I mean, they have no plan. I said you've got to take some risks, you've got to cut some stuff out."
Army officials acknowledge the high costs of FCS, but note that the program represents only an average of about 4 percent of the overall Army budget over the next several years. It doesn't make sense to replace "legacy systems," older, outdated platforms of the type worn out by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with anything but equipment suited for the next generation of warfare, they say.
"In today's era of persistent conflict, the Army budget is intended to carefully balance current force requirements with a pressing, sincere need to continuously modernize, to adapt, and to meet the changing world security environment," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, in a prepared statement. "It is less expensive in the long run to build FCS than it is to continue to retool legacy systems."
The recent spate of negative comments against the FCS system are "worrisome," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at The Lexington Institute, a think tank based outside Washington, though he does not think they sound the death knell for the program.
Mr. Thompson does not call himself a supporter of the program, but he does say that it's the "closest thing" the Army has to a solution to some of its modernization challenges.
Thompson thinks Gates's recent pronouncement is a signal to the Army that it needs to communicate better the value of the program.
"If you look at what it's supposed to do, it's not that hard to understand, but for some reason the Army can't tell the story," he says.