Military Scales Back On Wonder Weapons
First Gates’ Pentagon came for the fifth-generation F-22 stealth fighter jet. Then it cut the “Flying Lightsaber” anti-missile laser plane. Now it’s talking about saving $100 billion over five years. The message to defense contractors and the military: Don’t bother trying to sell us on out-there, futuristic weapons.
But National Defense’s Sandra Erwin surveys the big-ticket items on the defense agenda and finds that a “tech-happy zeitgeist” — in which defense dollars for R&D flowed freely in the expectation of ever-better gear — now “seems long gone.” The Defense Department’s research and engineering chief, Zachary J. Lemnios, told reporters in August that he’s out to connect military commanders with the tech community so the generals and admirals “understand the art of the possible.” In other words, don’t come asking for gear that relies on unproven technology.
The test for what comes next is how to cram service needs into cheaper packages. Among the upcoming items that Erwin identifies: the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle. That’s the son of the Gates-chopped Future Combat Systems, an ultimately-unfeasible Army priority for a networked fleet of fast, high-firepower tanks. Ground Combat Systems is what the Army wants to buy in its place, to replace its aging Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Only it’s not going so well. In August, the Army had to cancel its first solicitation for the vehicle after service and Pentagon scrutinizers didn’t think the project sounded cost-effective.
The Army says developing and fielding it within seven years remains the service’s highest acquisition priority. But in a roundtable with reporters late last month, General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, conceded that the service was still ironing out the kinks in the program. And its project manager, Colonel Andrew Dimarco, promised that the Army would “factor life-cycle costs” into the program — that is, how much it will actually cost to keep the thing rolling — to avoid sticker shock.
The price tag remains to be seen. But like its sister services, the Army knows that it’s got to essentially clip coupons for its next generation of tech-enhanced gear in an era of big federal budget deficits.
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