Army makeover under scrutiny

The Army's aggressive timetable for transforming and fielding of the Objective Force has lawmakers from both parties, as well as Defense Department leaders, unsure whether the service will be able to meet its ambitious goals.

The Army originally planned to field its first Objective Force unit by 2010, but that date has been pushed up to 2008. The Objective Force will transform the current armored forces to make them better able to survive an all-out fight than today's light forces.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Airland Subcommittee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee, and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), ranking member, questioned whether there was significant funding and technology to accomplish that feat and whether the associated risks have been sufficiently addressed.

The Army has devoted 97 percent of its science and technology resources in the fiscal 2003 budget to the design and development of the Objective Force and enabling technologies, said the service's undersecretary, R. Les Brownlee, and its vice chief of staff, Gen. John Keane, in their joint testimony.

"I see it as a down payment on unaddressed requirements," said Keane about the fiscal 2003 budget. "It is ambitious and there is risk in [fielding the Objective Force this decade], but we're committed to it."

Information technology and its management will lead to the "radical changes that characterize transformation," Brownlee said.

Lieberman agrees, but said more money now will reduce risks later. "Sooner or later, we have to move away from the administration's mixed strategy of partially funding existing systems and throwing a bit of money in the direction of transformation, and instead move aggressively to make our military into a 21st century force," Lieberman told Federal Computer Week in a March 26 e-mail. "I prefer sooner. Making the commitment will cost more upfront, but the price of change gets higher — in both dollars and dangers — every year we wait."

Santorum said that despite the Army's financial commitment to the Objective Force, the service was still "very short" of the funding needed to meet its transformation goals.

He applauded the recent $154 million lead systems integrator contract award, which will help form the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS), to Boeing Co.'s Space and Communications group and Science Applications International Corp., but he was concerned that they could conclude that the technology to achieve the Army's vision might not be available in five or six years.

FCS is now envisioned to create an integrated battlespace, where networked information and communications systems provide a competitive edge to soldiers in the field and commanders in the control room.

Keane said Army officials had been struggling with the same issues that Santorum raised and that a decision on the technology prospects would be made in June 2003 by Pete Aldridge, DOD's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Aldridge, speaking at a March 22 press briefing at the Pentagon, said he agreed that it is a "very rapid schedule to be on." But he said the Army was funding the program the best way it knew how and that the lead systems integrator for FCS would help officials better define the various components and how they would interact.

"The Army is fully committed to it — that is the future of the Army," Aldridge said. "If they're going to fund anything, it's going to be FCS first."

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