Army transformation in transition

As the Army prepares to enter a critical stage in its transformation to the Objective Force, the service soon will be without its two top leaders.

Army Secretary Thomas White announced last week that he is resigning, and chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki is set to retire in June.

Shinseki often is credited with first making transformation a high-profile issue within the Pentagon, and his departure will have a greater impact on the Army's evolution than White's, said Jack Spencer, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

"Especially in the case of Shinseki, he really built the foundation for transformation," Spencer said. "It will be the next person's responsibility to carry that vision forward and make it a reality."

The Objective Force is a strategy to develop advanced information technology tools, vehicles and weapons that will make the Army's armored forces better able to survive an all-out fight. The first unit is scheduled to be equipped in 2008, with initial operational capability by 2010.

Future Combat Systems, the Army's combat transformation cornerstone, is a networked family of systems that uses advanced communications and technologies to link soldiers with manned and unmanned air and ground platforms and sensors.

John Grady, director of communications at the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA), said that FCS is well-funded in the fiscal 2003 and 2004 budgets and is included in future defense planning. Nevertheless, he said everyone will be taking a "wait and see attitude" as far as what the fiscal 2005 budget will include.

"Do these departures signal an end to that course of action? I don't see it like that," Grady said, noting that FCS is on pace for its Milestone B decision in mid-May, when the program will enter the system development and demonstration phase.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has not named replacements for White or Shinseki, but, Spencer said, "I'm sure Rumsfeld will pick someone who shares his vision."

Spencer noted that although White is well-known for his ties with troubled Enron Corp. and for his unsuccessful attempts to save the Crusader self-propelled howitzer, "two years is about what they do ... so we shouldn't read too much" into his departure.

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