Schoomaker: No need to trim FCS

Army leaders rejected today the notion that the Future Combat System (FCS) program should be cut to make funding available for current military needs. The service is lobbying the Bush administration for future funding amid low levels of equipment readiness and rising war costs.

“This is not an issue of affordability for our nation, this is an issue of priority,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, during the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C. FCS must compete with other programs for funding, based on priority, but leaders are fully committed to the FCS vision, he added.

FCS is the Army’s long-term modernization plan to transform the service into lighter, more mobile combat brigades that combine air, land and unmanned assets working together in a network-centric environment.

But the program has come under increased scrutiny because of its enormous price and the uncertainty of FCS capabilities based on pending technologies, such as the Joint Tactical Radio System.

Schoomaker also disputed media reports that system costs will total $300 billion. He placed the program cost at about $120 billion, with $31 billion of that to be spent between fiscal 2008 and 2013.

FCS will save the Army money in the long run, said Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, because FCS combat brigades require fewer soldiers and equipment would need to be replaced regardless of the program.

The United States’ robust economy can support increased investment in the Armed Forces, in light of the ongoing wars and global uncertainty, Harvey said. “The percent [of gross domestic product] that is being applied to defense is at historic lows…and that is the measure of affordability,” he said.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Office of Management and Budget, and the military services are negotiating the next six-year budget plan for military funding for fiscal 2008 to 2013. They will solidify a plan in December and submit their plan to Congress in February 2007, Harvey said.

But in August, Schoomaker failed to submit the Army’s portion of the budget plan to OSD as required. According to reports, he refused to submit the budget because the money was insufficient to properly fight the global war on terror while maintaining Army equipment and employee readiness.

The Army “felt that we had a challenge that we couldn’t overcome in the [2008] to [2013] budget program,” Schoomaker said, adding that OSD and OMB were helpful in resolving differences. A program review is under way and a budget submission will follow, he said.

The Army needs additional funds for readiness, but that money shouldn’t come from the other services, Schoomaker said. The Army is disadvantaged because of underfunding of about $100 billion in the 15 years preceding the war on terror, he added.

The staggered budget process, consisting of regular budgets, bridge funds and supplemental funds, hurts Army planning efforts, he said. “It’s very difficult to manage a large organization like the Army without certainty of funding and without funding on time,” he said.

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