Should the Army spend billions on technology?

Military analysis.
March 28 2005 5:55 PM

A Future the Army Can't Afford

Should we spend billions on high-tech dreams?

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As retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, the president of the Army War College, testified before the House Armed Services Committee:

Technology is useful in unconventional warfare. But machines alone will never be decisive. … The tools most useful in this new war are low-tech and manpower-intensive … night raids, ambushes, roving patrols mounted and dismounted, as well as reconstruction, civic action, and medial contact teams. The enemy will be located not by satellites and [drones] but by patient intelligence work, back alley payoffs, collected information from captured documents, and threats of one-way vacations to Cuba. … Buried in an avalanche of information, commanders still confront the problem of trying to understand the enemy's intention and his will to fight.

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The Army is—and, to some degree, always has been—split into two factions: the procurement commands, which are most interested in buying new, ever more complex weapons systems, and which funnel billions of dollars to large defense contractors; and the operational commands, which are most interested in fighting and winning wars. FCS is the fanciful wish list of the former faction. Scales' testimony represents the mundane reality check of the latter.

Over the past year, the operational faction has been on the ascendancy, emboldened by the vindication of their objections to Rumsfeld's rosy-eyed war plan in Iraq—and encouraged by the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, whose background as a special-ops commander inclines him toward a gritty realism. They are writing new doctrinal manuals and conducting new training exercises on how to secure and stabilize a country after the battlefield phase of war—a focus that emphasizes boots on the ground, cultural awareness, language skills, and intelligence-gathering based on eye-to-eye contact with the population.

Select pieces of FCS might fit into this conception, but the overall scheme does not—any more than its $150 billion-plus price tag can be accommodated within the Army's strained resources. For four years, the procurement faction has been given carte blanche to buy whatever it's wanted, as long as the desired weapons system is consistent with Rumsfeld's vision of transformation. It's time to examine the weapons and the vision.

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