Sen. McCain Placed in the Unusual Role of Protecting the FCS Program
Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain [R-AZ] has arguably been the bane of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. He’s the most influential critic of its previous procurement relationship with Boeing and of the program’s escalating costs. Now he’s in the unusual position of vowing to fight language in the Senate’s $445.5 billion fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill, in order to protect the integrity and intent of the FCS program.
GlobalSecurity.org notes that the U.S. Army currently ranks behind several other countries in cannon artillery capabilities, and points out that U.S. Army after-action studies from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Afghanistan, and Desert Storm have exposed that the U.S. Army has a critical need for an advanced cannon artillery solution. In response, the current Senate FY 2006 defense bill adds a provision which would separate the NLOS-C mobile cannon/howitzer from the FCS into its own funded program if the overall program falls behind schedule.
As the Senate and House versions of the Defense bill head to reconciliation, they currently differ on whether to cut $100 million (Senate) or $400 million (House) from the FCS program in 2006. These cuts are, of course, likely to have an impact on the FCS program’s ability to meet that schedule.
Sen. McCain fears that this proposed Senate provision “fundamentally changes” FCS from a unified program to a fragmented one. Based on the classic formula of “Good, cheap, fast – pick any two,” the proposed Senate modification could also increase FCS’ development costs and risks. The worst case scenario would be one the program’s burn rate increases to keep it on schedule and preserve its integrity, while every contractor begins positioning themselves to separate out their own piece as its own individually-funded effort. This would represent more expense, in other words, followed by procurement business as usual.
If so, the effect would be to destroy the entire underlying concept of the FCS procurement program. Its novel procurement arrangement was explicitly set up to cut some of the red tape and lack of coordination inherent in standard military procurement approaches, whose 10-20 year cycles create significant issues in an age defined by rapidly-advancing technology and the need for joint interoperability. As DID has noted in a previous article:
“…the speed of technology, juxtaposed with the 10-20 year procurement cycles of advanced militaries, is forcing both exploration of new procurement options and the devolution of more development & specification work to contractors around the world. FCS is one model for doing so. Even if the worst should come to pass and the program should fail, FCS will not represent the last such attempt by any means.”
Whether or not the FCS program proves to be a successful attempt to resolve that conundrum, Sen. McCain is clearly trying to stand up for the program’s integrity and give it a fair chance to succeed, while working to address the issues he has had with its execution. Congress may decide in the end to scrap the FCS program, or they may not. Regardless, Sen. McCain’s proposed moves would mean that they will have to debate that decision openly and proclaim it openly, rather than introducing stealth measures whose effects would inevitably unravel the program.