Stephen Speakes: Combat evolves, and innovation gives our soldiers an edge
By StarTribune.comJune 23, 2008
Recently I made visits to businesses in Minneapolis and Sterling Heights, Mich., where workers are developing, testing and integrating the Future Combat Systems -- the equipment that will protect and empower American soldiers in the future.Some remain skeptical of the Future Combat Systems approach. Despite the many soldiers who give testimony to how FCS technologies are helping them on the battlefield today and will continue to help them tomorrow, some see it as too ambitious or too expensive. The funding for FCS has been cut four times since its inception, which has caused a delay in bringing these important technologies to our soldiers.Those who doubt that FCS is real and achievable should visit these facilities and see for themselves, as I did. As a first-time observer to both facilities, I left impressed. The sophistication of the program and the complexity of the on-site testing and modeling are inspiring.Future Combat Systems is more than new technology; it is the materiel that will enable the Army to fight more successfully on the streets of Baghdad today and on the battlefield of tomorrow. For that future battlefield, it is developing equipment such as the recently completed Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, which will provide a precision attack with a variety of munitions.The Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon is one of the technologies I was able to view in my recent visit, and it stands as a major contribution that Minnesota is making to Future Combat Systems. BAE Systems is using its plant in Minneapolis to put the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon through more than 10,000 miles and 20 years of equivalent warfare by using cutting-edge testing capabilities.The FCS program management and industry team are changing the way we test and develop such systems. They are not waiting to put vehicles in the field to test; instead, computer modeling and simulation are a core part of the design and evaluation process. These tests assure us that the equipment made in Minneapolis has met the high standards we maintain on behalf of our soldiers, who will have to depend on it in combat.Equally impressive to this technology is the motivated workforce. At one facility, an engineer had recently completed a tour commanding a mechanized National Guard unit in Iraq. Now back home, he knows firsthand how the technologies created through the Future Combat Systems help soldiers on the ground.We have learned a lot over the past several years of war. The impact of intelligence and reconnaissance assets on the battlefield, the need to protect our soldiers better, and the impact of modern medical technologies have led to changes in our acquisition strategies. Acting on the lessons learned, the Army has delivered hundreds of new systems and equipment to our soldiers in harm's way -- and we are not finished yet.Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes is deputy chief of staff of U.S. Army G8.