Mention the words “Future Combat Systems” around Army officials, lawmakers or think tank types and their gut reaction will inevitably be a groan. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea to mention the program in the presence of senior service officials at all.
Eight years after its cancellation, some say the service’s reputation has still not recovered from the $18 billion spent on a program that went nowhere. Shortly after then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates pulled the plug on the program, the Army went into a procurement trough. Sequestration and the Budget Control Act necessitated tradeoffs and readiness was prioritized over modernization.
But did Future Combat Systems truly go nowhere? A look at current Army research-and-development priorities and what the Army is acquiring suggests that the service will end up with most of the core FCS elements and capabilities despite the program going down in flames, and the subsequent tight budgets.