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Transformation in Ground Combat Vehicles

25 June 2004, 23:00 to 27 June 2004, 23:00

 Key speakers for 2004 include:
 - General Sir Mike Jackson KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen (Chief of the General Staff, British Army)
 - General Peter J. Schoomaker United States Army (Chief of Staff, United States Army)
 - General Bernard Thorette (Chief of the General Staff, French Army)
 - General Lieutenant Hans-Otto Budde (Inspekteur des Heeres & Chief of German Army)
 - Lieutenant General Johann Kihl (Chief of Staff, Swedish Army)
 - Lieutenant General Giulio Fraticelli (Chief of General Staff, Italian Army)
 - Lieutenant General (Select) John M. Curran United States Army (Director Futures Center, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command)
 - Lieutenant General Scott Wallace United States Army(Commanding General Combined Arms Center, United States Army)
 - Honorable Claude M. Bolton Jr. (Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology, United States Department of Defense)


 The 2003 RUSI/DEM Combat Vehicles conference was a ground-breaking event in the RUSI conference programme, bringing in almost 400 attenders to hear presentations from all the key stakeholders in the United States Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) and the British Army's Future Rapid Effects System (FRES). Many critical questions remain about the status and future of these two key programmes. Such is the enduring timeliness and topicality of this issues that the fourth annual RUSI/DEM conference will remain focused on FCS, FRES, setting them in the wider context of force transformation and the future of land warfare. It will bring together once again the key stakeholders in these programmes - as well as key figures in the European debate - into a single forum to develop and push forward the critical debate on the role of ground forces in the joint fight.

 The debate between light, medium and heavy land forces has been rumbling for years. Decisions on the future direction of land forces have become more time-urgent in recent years, as the debate has moved way from a platform-centric focus to an emphasis on forces in a system of systems, a networked equipment capability. A further twist was added to this debate from lessons identified in recent combat operations - not least in Iraq where heavy armour made a resurgence on the battlefield.

 FCS, FRES and other international developments in combat vehicle capability are based around an assessment of key user requirements, such as: sustainability and interoperability; availability; deployability; operational mobility; survivability; lethality; integration; environment; growth potential. Other key factors include: improving interoperability - with other systems, services and countries; affordability and balance of investment; role in a network-enabled capability. The keys to the future of the US Army’s FCS programme and the UK FRES programme are the sensors, networks and firepower embedded in these programmes. Yet the key challenge lies in preserving these parts of the projects, as others seek to protect the platforms where the money lies.

 The UK Ministry of Defence has stated an `intention to retain a heavy force component, including an “appropriately” improved Challenger II, in service alongside the medium-weight FRES, at least until 2025.’ Yet the UK is looking to develop rapidly-deployable forces able to respond swiftly to deliver precise effect in a wide range of operations. As the MoD looks to work with industry to turn the formal declaration of the Defence Industrial Policy into reality, the procurement strategy for the UK’s future medium weight force is based around six main lines of development: equipment/technology; doctrine; supportability; training; people; and infrastructure. This strategy is designed to deliver a capability wholly integrated into a networked force. At this stage, FRES is regarded at this stage as a family of platforms. However, is there a conflict between FRES being regarded as a platform replacement programme and as a component in a network-enabled capability.

 As the United States Army moves from it’s Current to Future Force, the United States Army’s strategic guidance centres on the need to deliver, at the right place and right time, relevant and ready land power capability which is strategically responsive, precise in effect and dominant across a range of operations. Modular, capabilities-based systems must enable greater capacity for rapid and tailorable force capability packages. FCS will in theory be a system-of-systems capability. Thus, although the UK and US Army programmes may be similar in language and while interoperability in harmonising capabilities is critical if the UK and US are to develop a rapid deployment capability, the two programmes are unrelated. Yet, particularly in the light of the challenges of the war against terrorism, interoperability remains critical. On the back of lessons identified in Iraq, with the United States Army recognising the enduring relevance of the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank, the US also faces similar debates to those in the UK regarding transformation between heavy, medium and light forces. This debate will have a significant impact on the direction of US debates and equipment capability developments in future combat vehicles. FCS is the key future combat system for the United States Army, a system-of-systems which will transform the United States Army into the Future Force envisaged by the Chief of Staff. A key element of the FCS debate, however, is the way in which the US Army continues to transform whilst simultaneously fighting – and winning – in more traditional forms of land warfare, yet while also harvesting developing technology into the current force to enhance existing capabilities.

 The conference will also focus very much on the issue of interoperability as a key component in the future of land warfare for combined armed forces in coalitions of the willing. It will also endeavour to draw contextual distinctions between UK, US and European developments. Certainly, recent combat operations have highlighted commonalities, similarities and differences between UK, US and European developments, perspectives and approaches with respect to doctrine, concepts of operation and equipment capability issues.

 Despite the size of contracts being awarded, key programmes are threatening to slip right. User requirements and procurement strategies remain ill-defined. Total programme costs remain unclear. Furthermore, although transformation also is regarded as a critical issue and while many transformation issues (particularly the development of a robust C4ISTAR network) will be accelerated to support current forces, transformation itself (by definition) and technologies which enable it will appear relatively slowly over time. In many senses, transformation is an on-going process which will endure beyond the in-service dates of many currently-planned systems.

 There appears to be only an embryonic study of the implications of net-centred warfare for armed forces and the defence industrial complex. It remains a challenge for armed forces, and for the armies of the UK, US and major European countries to convince defence and government leaders to commit to the development of expensive new programmes while a cultural legacy of platform-centric operations and procurement is juxtaposed against a growing emphasis on net-centred warfare for which there appears to be (at this stage, at least) no clear and universally-agreed procurement and funding strategies. Many questions remain unanswered. This conference intends to address these questions, to indicate the direction of and next phases in the major UK, US and European ground combat vehicle programmes and to help map out more clearly the roles - and implications - of FCS and FRES in future land warfare.

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