Trading armor for knowledge: Can the Army do it?

Army transformation involves building rapidly deployable forces. But can next-generation systems trade armor for the speed offered by lighter, wheeled vehicles and the knowledge derived from computer networks and still give soldiers the protection of today's heavier, tracked vehicles?

The new Army leadership, led by Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the service's chief of staff, asks this question daily. That is even more true since Operation Iraqi Freedom, military and industry officials say.

The service's top armor officer said he has the answer and it is the Future Combat System.

"Protection of our soldiers is imperative, and we will not accept undue risk," said Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker, commanding general of the Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky., in a statement. "Ten years ago, that meant a 70-ton M1 Abrams tank. Ten years from now, it will mean FCS."

FCS vehicles will have better armor than those used today, Tucker said. And when you add active and passive protection systems, technologies that destroy enemy projectiles before they strike your vehicle or that easily absorb and distribute the shock when they hit you, the vehicles will survive better on the battlefield, he said.

However, he issued a word of caution. "We must always balance how we leverage armor with knowledge to provide the greatest protection and survivability for our soldiers."

The Army's top information technology officer agreed that the service must find equilibrium. "Trading armor for knowledge is really about a balance between the two," said Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer.

The service's recently retired CIO said technology has shifted the warfighting paradigm. "We now can use precision — not mass — to kill the enemy," said Peter Cuviello, vice president of information infrastructure at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems.

The accuracy of computer- and satellite-guided weapons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and the 1991 Persian Gulf War means the Army can opt not to deploy large vehicle and troop formations, but still destroy enemies on a linear battlefield, Cuviello said. "But you still need armor," he added.

A retired three-star Army general concurs. "We should never assume that there is not a crossover point between knowledge and lethal systems. There is," said Gene Blackwell, who now specializes in communications and computer systems in the private sector. "The balance of knowledge and instruments of destruction is the key."

Blackwell said he hopes new Army leaders understand the trouble rocket-propelled grenades and explosive devices are causing soldiers in Iraq and recognize that future vehicles must offer protection against them.

"Personally, I learned there is nothing on Earth that can replace the firepower, shock action, protection and killing power of the Abrams/Bradley team," Blackwell said. "I trust others are learning the same lesson."

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