Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Wonder Tank Will Not Be Built

That's what I concluded in this article. We are trying to build a revolutionary Future Combat System (FCS) that would indeed be amazing if built:

Building the FCS, however, is a high-risk venture. The Army should not spend whatever it takes attempting to meld multiple revolutionary technologies into one vehicle for all missions. The FCS should be different from the Abrams and Bradley but must be designed with near-term technology that incorporates modular improvements if the Army is to turn "gee whiz" ideas into actual hardware. Separated missiles and a sensor grid; active defenses; EGTs; and exotic engines, fuels, and weapons can be retrofitted to defeat more capable enemies. Barring successfully fielding exotic technologies to make the FCS work, the Army must consider how it will defeat future heavy systems if fighting actual enemies and not merely suppressing disorder becomes its mission once again. The tentative assumptions of 2001 will change by 2025. When they do, the Army will rue its failure today to accept that the wonder tank will not be built.

Strategypage has more:

The army is trying to build a next generation tank, as part of the FCS (Future Combat System) series, that will weigh less than the M-1, and have better armor protection. Aside from active protection systems (that detect incoming projectiles and fire little missiles at them), the FCS tank is depending on “armor” materials that exist only in theory, or laboratory samples. The current attitude of the manufacturers is to have the army throw them enough money, and they will make it happen, one way or another. That has worked in the past, but that approach has often failed as well.

A lot appears to ride on this approach. But what if we cannot provide protection without weight?

There has to be a next generation tank, and no one wants to just build a better M-1. But unless these new protective technologies show up soon, the future tank is going to be an improved M-1, or something that looks a lot like it.

Victory in battle is not our birthright. We cannot simply assume that whatever we send to war will trounce the enemy in a networked blur of killing and so all we need to do is make our military vehicles easier to transport long distances. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We need tanks--or something an awful lot like them--to defeat our enemies.

Or maybe we will build the wonder tank. I've certainly been wrong before. Yet we assume that our enemies will have present day technology. But what if wonder tank technology grafted on to sheer size creates a high tech monster? Our enemies don't have to go far to fight us. We're the ones who have to go to them. We may worry about weight but our enemies don't.

Will even a successful FCS be able to fight our enemies who copy our technology?