Future Combat Systems

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Originally intended to begin full deployment in 2010, Future Combat Systems (FCS) is an integrated, network-centric set of techologies and equipment for enhanced warfighting by the United States Army. As a program, however, it has been cancelled, to be replaced by new approaches, according to early reports in May 2009. [1] The formal refocusing came in June.

Interim replacements

Some of the systems will continue in development, under an interim program called the Brigade Combat Team Modernization. [2] According to U.S. Department of Defense acquisition chief Ashton Carter, the major continuing efforts include hunmanned aerial and ground vehicles, unattended ground sensors, a non-line-of-sight launch system or "rockets in a box," as well as the overall networking.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the portion of the FCS program to field new manned combat vehicles did not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was further troubled by the terms of the current single contract covering the whole FCS effort.[2] Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, GEN Peter Chiarelli, met with industry representatives in November 2009 to define a new approach to the first cancelled area, manned ground systems. [3]

It reflected, in many cases, upgraded capabilities for large-scale land warfare, and there are question if these are the most likely scenarios. Counterarguments include that the effectiveness of individual systems is such that a small number could still be effective in small wars. This dichotomy is becoming obvious in briefings; a recent Army briefing specifically spoke of its relevance to situations such as the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon conflict, where Israeli tanks took a beating: "Hezbollah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses. FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact." [4]

In the original concepts, 14 combat subsystems were identified, along with enabling technologies, which fall into several groups (e.g., manned combat vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc. in this article). These call for advances in a set of 44 technologies. In March 2008, the General Accountability Office said the Army rated 2 of them as fully mature, 30 are nearing full maturity. 6 advancing, and 3 less mature. The systems, however, will be rolled out incrementally with periodic reviews and reassessment. Some, however, are now in combat use. [5] There is, however, considerable financial pressure arguing against full deployment.

Common systems

Shared among all the components is:[6]

  • A system-of-systems common operating environment (SOSCOE): it supports multiple mission-critical applications by using a nonproprietary, standards-based architecture and COTS computing hardware adapted for military applications.
  • Battle command (BC) software: this includes mission planning and preparation, situation understanding with a common operational picture, mission execution, and warfighter-machine interface (WMI) applications.
  • Tactical and Strategic Communications, using Increment 3 of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T).
  • Intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) sensors: these are a distributed, networked array of multispectral sensors that provide a "see first" capability that is rapidly shared across the FCS network.
  • Realistic training devices can be build that duplicate the actual human interfaces of the field systems, but can be used with virtual reality simulators for intense yet cheaper training.

Procurement, Risk and economics

These systems will unquestionably be expensive. The key question is whether the greater cost will be justified by greater efficiencies, including the ability both to field smaller forces and to lower risk among the troops of those forces. In the Fiscal Year 2007 appropriation, while $3.4 billion for the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program was appropriated for FCS, the U.S. Department of Defense is required to submit "independent cost estimate[s] of the core FCS program, FCS spinouts and FCS complementary systems."[7] "Spinouts" are the systems that are being sent to combat units in the field, before the full FCS deployments begin; they focus on systems needed by Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.[8] Spin Out 1 consists of B-kits for Abrams, Bradley and HMMWV platforms, Tactical and Urban Sensors and Non Line of Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS). Spin Out 1 B-Kits include Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio (JTRS-GMR), Integrated Computer System (ICS), and System of System Common Operating System (SoSCOE).[9]

The General Accountability Office has raised concerns over risk in premature procurement.[10] According to the GAO, not all critical may be fully mature until the Army’s production decision in February 2013; a major reassessment is due in early 2009, based on the results of early implementation. [11] Some of the enabling technologies include the separately managed Joint Tactical Radio System, which is behind schedule in some areas; early FCS systems requiring JTRS will be tested with interim radios.

Some of the systems have been defunded, for budgetary reasons, including the Armed Robotic Vehicle and the Class II and III unmanned aerial vehicle. Four proposals for reducing scope have been presented:[12]

  • Alternative I, full suite of sensors in the FCS program (to provide enhanced information collection capabilities) and a version of the FCS network (to disseminate that information). All manned vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), and the Improved Munitions System (IMS) and its NLOS-LS launcher would be cancelled.
  • Alternative II: retain the sensors and keep the program’s systems that focus on attacking targets more than 20 km away. All manned vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, Improved Munitions System, and the new version Class I and II unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) would be cancelled.[13]
  • Alternative III: focus away from sensors and long-range weapons and concentrate replacing older maneuvering vehicles, especially those based on the M113 and the M109 howitzer. This would retain the NLOS cannon and mortar, 25% of the infantry combat vehicles, the command and control vehicles, and the medical vehicles. The XM1202 Mounted Combat System (MCS), recovery & maintenance vehicle and reconnaissance vehicle would be cancelled, as well as all of the UGV, unattended ground sensors, and IMS.
  • Alternative IV: cancel all but a scaled-down network.

"Under none of the alternatives would the service develop or procure the unmanned ground vehicles or improved munitions systems that are currently planned under the FCS program, and all of the alternatives would upgrade existing armored vehicles to convert them to the latest model of the current system and prevent their average age from increasing. Such upgrades would also integrate the capabilities associated with the retained FCS components when the systems became available".

In late March 2009, the Army withdrew from a hearing by the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, saying that overall Defense Department budget priorities had to be established first. Chairman Neil Abercrombie, (D-HI} said full FCS is not affordable if other needs are to be met, saying he "would be delighted to work with all concerned" to take a "much more sober, disciplined and realistic approach to moving forward with the program." Senior Republican subcommittee member Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) said it would "premature to condemn the program" until the full Defense budget is presented. [14]

Soldier as a System (Saas)

Using Land Warrior Systems from protective cover

Aside from all the unmanned sensors, combat vehicles, crew-served weapons, and other features, it cannot be overemphasized that FCS includes the idea of the "soldier as a system" (SaaS) or "Land Warrior System", which includes a highly trained soldier, equipped with engineered clothing, personal equipment, and even food. While the fully FCS-equipped soldier is not quite the Mobile Infantry of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers, or the "Borg" of the Star Trek universe, many of the SaaS features, in active field testing, give many observers a sense that science fiction has become reality. The soldier is the most important of the systems.

Soldiers, either from Common Crew Stations of Manned Ground Vehicles or from handheld Common Controllers when outside vehicles, can communicate with Class I unmanned aerial vehicles, all FCS unmanned ground vehicles, non-line-of-sight attack systems, and unattended ground sensors. They will also provide libraries of maps, technical libraries, etc., and share components to minimize weight and maximize battery life. The Common Controller passed a design review in April 2009, focused on the Class I UAV, the XM1217 Transport MULE Vehicle (MULE-T) vehicle, the XM1216 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), Unattended Ground Sensors, and some features of manned ground vehicles. [15] Assuming continued funding, this means the Common Controller will ship for field testing later in 2009.

A more modest but deployed subset of these capabilities are in the AN/PRC-154 intra-squad radio, whose functions to which Chief of Staff of the Army GEN George Casey referred when he said that the Land Warrior System, which had been cut back significantly, may be one of the most critical elements, and needs to be focused to the needs of light forces. He said that the single battalion with it "...would rather leave the compound without their weapons than without their land warrior system. It basically gives them an eyepiece where they can view a computer screen, and they have a military BlackBerry, so they can stay connected when they're out there. They know where everybody in their squad is--they know where everybody is, so their situational awareness is huge."[16]


Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition systems (IRSTA), arguably, are the second most important component of FCS after the soldier, continuing a widespread Army saying, "If you can find it, you can hit it. If you can hit it, you can kill it." Wise adversaries know, therefore, that their first imperative is not to be found; the first part of actual warfare is the reconnaissance-counterreconnaissance duel. The priority given to this system and mission is already obvious in brigade combat teams, which operate with RSTA systems that take up an unprecedented amount of resources in units of brigade size: the RSTA Squadron and Military Intelligence Company.

unattended ground sensors (UGS) are a major component, for genneral tactical and urban-specific environments. While ISR is not the only functions for the FCS UAVs, they strongly support ISR.

The actual systems that ISRTA directs fall into two categories, kinetic kill and non-kinetic-kill. Kinetic kill mechanisms continue the principles of traditional weaponry: physical destruction of the target by explosive force, heat or mechanical impact. Most of the kinetic weapons are Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS), so they can shelter while firing and have their projectiles guided into the target.

Nonkinetic kill, however, using such things as electronic warfare and information operations can neutralize enemy capabilities rather than destroy them. Clearly, the enemy has to use electronics for electronic warfare to be relevant, but electronic warfare is not the only aspect of nonkinetic kill. Information operations include psychological warfare; the principle that the wisest general is the one who wins without fighting goes back to Sun Tzu in 400 BC. BCTs, even before FCS, make psychological warfare, humanitarian relief, and other parts of information operations, effective against low-technology enemies, a basic part of planning. Both for intelligence and information operations, indeed, one of the perceived critical shortfalls is a lack of linguists.

Manned vehicles and weapons

All the manned vehicles of the FCS share some common automotive mechanical and electronic components. A number replace things built on variants of the M113 vehicle, introduced in 1960. Other vehicles have more modern designs, but still may be 30 or more years older, and still need replacement for simple mechanical reasons.

The overall Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) program, as originally conceived, has been cancelled, but there is substantial argument that it may be refocused. One major simplification and cost reduction would be to convert all or most of the MGVs from tracked to wheeled vehicles. [17] Wheeled vehicles are the controversial basis of the Stryker vehicle system.

Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicle

XM1201 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicles (RSV) are, to some extent an improvement on the M3 cavalry fighting vehicle, or the M1114 HMWWV scout vehicle or M1127 reconnaissance vehicle of the BCT RSTA Squadron, respectively, the Infantry Brigade Combat Team or Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The RSV finds the enemy and guides NLOS fires onto it.

It is equipped with a mast-mounted, long-range electro-optic infrared sensor; an emitter mapping sensor for Radio Frequency (RF) intercept and direction finding; remote chemical detection; and a multifunction RF sensor. The RSV also has onboard processing and analysis, and carries Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS), a Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), and a Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) system. [18]

Mounted Combat System

One of the MGV family, the XM1202 Mounted Combat System (MCS) officially provides Line of Sight (LOS) and Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) offensive firepower capability allowing BCTs to close with and destroy enemy forces. It directly supports dismounted infantry in an assault, defeating bunkers, and breaching walls during the tactical assault. [19]

XM3601 gun for the Mounted Combat System

Its role differs from any other recent combat vehicle, although the Stryker M1128 mobile gun system probably comes closest, with an 105mm tank cannon without NLOS capability. Even though the FCS XM1202 carries a 120mm cannon, it is certainly not a replacement for the M1 Abrams tank. While the M2 Bradley infantry carier can provide fire support to troops in the assault, M2 weapons are much lighter than those of the XM1202.

In providing direct assault functions, it has some parallels to the retired M729 Combat Engineer Vehicle, to the defunded, Abrams-derived Grizzly breaching vehicle. The Grizzly was a modified Abrams tank, with a dozer blade and a powered arm for loading or moving.[20] Small quantities of Abrams-derived Assault Breacher Vehicles have been built for the United States Marine Corps, but these are optimized against minefields and berms, not bunkers. The XM1202 does not have a dozer blade or a crane, as did the M728.

Bradley engineer squad vehicles (EBFV, or M2A2-ODS-E) carry engineers and their equipment onto the battlefield, but do not have the short-range, line-of-sight 165mm gun that was on the M729, or any equivalent.

When employing the Mid-Range Munition (MRM), the MCS also provides BLOS fires to destroy point targets through the integrated sensor network. This BLOS capability never existed in the M729.

NLOS cannon

Of the non-individual kinetic kill mechanisms, among the first is the XM1203 non-line-of-sight cannon (NLOS-C). Physically, it is an advanced 155mm howitzer, self-propelled on a manned vehicle, which will succeed the U.S. M109 Paladin series, but with smaller crews and more capabiity. Perhaps even more important than crew and weapon capability, however, is that the M109s, even though self-propelled and lightly armored, are too slow, as vehicles, to stay in formation with Abrams and Bradley vehicles at cruising speed.

Ammunition handling, loading and firing are mechanized and automatic, provide an unprecedentedly high rate of fire. Most munitions fired will be the existing [[40 kilometers because of its GPS and inertial navigation guidance - it is accurate to less than 10 meters using the existing M982 Excalibur guided shell.

In addition, the fire control computing system allows Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI). MRSI is a technique in which a single cannon can put a burst of multiple projectiles in the air, with trajectories calculated such that they will impact near-simultaneously. MRSI salvoes begin by firing the first shell in a trajectory that will have the longest flight time, and then following with automatically loaded shells in individually computed trajectories, each with a shorter flight time.

Additional funding, in Fiscal Year 2007, was $112.3 million. [7] As of February 2008, one thousand test shells had been fired from a preproduction platform.[21] The first NLOS-C shell was fired, from a fully automatic platform, on September 23, 2008. [22]

NLOS mortar

The XM1204 mortar (NLOS-M), while non-line-of-sight is intended for closer engagement distances, as well as certain engagement geometries, than is practical with the NLOS-C howitzer-based system. The Stryker M1129 mortar carrier and the M113-based M1064 mortar carrier were far less capable.

Recovery and Maintenance Vehicle

XM1205 Recovery and Maintenance Vehicles (FRMV) would replace the current M88 tank retriever.

Infantry Carrier Vehicle

XM1206 infantry carrier vehicles (ICV) replace the current M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, again on an aging chassis.

While Bradleys have been retrofitted with Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) networking, these will be built for the networked environment, including the ability to control precision fires.

The XM1206 will be somewhat lighter and more easily deployable than the Bradley, but still too heavy for medium C-130 Hercules transports. Stryker M1126 infantry carrier vehiclea are C-130 capable. Although they will have a heavier cannon than the Bradley, their more important firepower is their role in controlling close support to ground forces.

Externally identical XM1206 vehicles will carry infantry squads, infantry platoon headquarters, and company commanders. They will link via the Joint Tactical Radio System.

Medical vehicles

The XM1207 evacuation vehicle (MV-E) is a protected, high-speed ambulance that can transport, with medical staff, medical evacuation for up to 4 litter patients, 6 ambulatory patients or a combination of 3 litter and 3 ambulatory patients.

For more definitive and time-sensitive care, the XM1208 treatment vehicle (MV-T) gives an environment that supports "emergency room" level life support.

Command and Control Vehicle

In the XM1209 command and control vehicle (C2V), commanders and staff would be as mobile as their troops, would have electronic access to appropriate parts of the Army Battle Command System, at all security levels, down to company level. The vehicle would have sensors and communications of its own.

It would replace the existing M113-derived M577 and M1068, and complement the Stryker M1130 command vehicle.

NLOS launch system

For more information, see: Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System.
NLOS-LS test-firing a PAM

With the FCS designation XM501 NLOS launch system (NLOS-LS) is a lightweight launcher for Precision Attack Missiles (PAM), which have both line-of-sight (LOS) and short beyond-LOS (BLOS) modes as well as a boost-glide trajectory mode. One of its roles is to bring long-range strike to Infantry and Special Operations Forces, which do not have long-range precision fires capability without augmentation from artillery or air support.[23]

It gets targeting information during and snf after launch, can follow laser designation, or use autonomous sensors. As opposed to current battlefield missiles, PAMs can send near-real-time information in the form of target imagery prior to impact, simplifying battle damage assessment. They are also under consideration for the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship, although they probably will be supplanted by the lighter and cheper Griffin missile.

It was scheduled as part of FCS Spin Out 1 Limited User Test (LUT) for the summer of 2009. Successful completion of the LUT would be needed for the planned NLOS-LS deployment to an Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2011.


Intelligent munitions system (IMS)

While unintelligent antipersonnel land mines are being banned by treaty, the mine ban, Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, is specific to that type. Also known as the Ottawa Treaty, it does not preclude antitank mines with even the minimum mechanical fuzes that prevent them from being detonated by anything lighter than a large vehicle, posing little risk to civilians.

The IMS incorporates far more intelligent sensors than the simple weight-actuated fuze of an antitank mine. Indeed, individual IMS components may be "man-in-the-loop": their unattended action is limited to detecting a possible target and requesting human consent to engage it. Autonomous IMS weapons are highly selective; they might, for example, attack a presumed tank only if it met the predefined and specific acoustic and magnetic signatures (i.e., geophysical MASINT) of a specific tank model. "Man-in-the-loop", or "command detonated mines" such as the U.S. M18A1 Claymore are excepted from antipersonnel land mine treaties.

Mid-range munition

Mid-range munitions are a family of precision-guided munitions to be fired from 120mm or 105mm artillery. Raytheon, the prime contractor, also builds the Excalibur 155mm guided shell (i.e., without a rocket motor) used in the current M109 howitzer and the U.S. Navy's rocket-assisted Extended Range Guided Munition (ERGM), which do not have as advanced a guidance system. 120mm is the most common caliber for a main tank gun, and indeed prototypes were fired, in 2004, from M1 Abrams guns. The basic guidance mechanism of the prototypes is semi-active laser, in which the shell homes on a target "painted" by a laser designator. Sensors under development will allow the munition to guide itself. The FCS Mounted Combat Vehicle and NLOS Mortar are 120mm.

A newer version of the guidance system uses "laser offset", in which a spot, in the vicinity of the target, is designated. Once the shell detects that spot, it uses an onboard sensor to find a potentially moving tank within a certain radius of the spot.

All types under development have a rocket motor for extending range, as well as stabilizing fins. Course adjusting tends to involve small rocket thrusters rather than aerodynamic control surfaces such as rudders.

There are two warhead types, kinetic energy (KE) and chemical energy (CE). Kinetic energy rounds, which are the most common type used against heavily armored targets (e.g., APFSDS) today, accelerate a hard metal "dart" to extreme velocities. Chemical energy warheads carry explosives, and have superior performance against area and unarmored targets.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

There are four classes of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), ranging from Class I units that can be carried in backpacks, larger vehicle-carried Class II, to Class III battalion-level resources and Class IV at Brigade Combat Team control. Classes II and III probably are cancelled.

Class I and II are primarily for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA), to let soldiers send a robot ahead of them. At classes III and IV, additional functions join basic RSTA, as a multifunction system with the range and endurance to provide communications relay, weather information, chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear (CBRN) survey, and airborne detection of land mines. The Class IV UAV is operational as the MQ-8 Fire Scout.

Unattended ground sensors

FCS unattended ground sensors (UGS) replace the improved REMBASS (I-REMBASS) systems now in use, which employ a mixture of electro-optical, magnetic, vibration/seismic, and acoustic sensors.

The new generation come in Tactical (T-UGS) and Urban (U-UGS) versions. They add Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and early warning.

Unmanned ground vehicles

The XM1217 Transport MULE Vehicle (MULE-T), a Multifunctional utility/logistics and equipment (MULE) vehicle: a 2.5-ton unmanned ground vehicle that supports dismounted operations and includes a chassis, autonomous navigation system, operator control unit, and three mission-equipment packages. Besides its basic transport "carry the backpacks" function, it has three major variants:

  • XM1216 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV): a small, lightweight, man-portable UGV that can conduct military operations in urban terrain tunnels, sewers, and caves.
  • XM1218 Countermine MULE Vehicle (MULE-CM)
  • XM1219 Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault-Light (ARV-A-L), which has been defunded for budgetary reasons.


  1. "UPDATE 3-US Army's FCS program ended in current form", Reuters, 18 May 2009
  2. 2.0 2.1 Future Combat System (FCS) Program Transitions to Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization, U.S. Department of Defense, 23 June 2009
  3. "US Army Meets with Industry to Conceive a Ground Combat Vehicle", Defense Talk, 30 November 2009
  4. Greg Jaffe (April 6, 2009), Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate: Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat
  5. General Accountability Office (March 2008), Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs., Government Acountability Office Report [GAO-08-467SP], p. 89
  6. Future Combat Systems program office, United States Army (April 2008), Future Combat Systems (Brigade Combat Team) (FCS (BCT)) system overview
  7. 7.0 7.1 Senate Armed Services Committee (September 29, 2006), Senate and House complete conference on John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007
  8. U.S. Army (June 26, 2008), Army to accelerate Future Combat Systems (FCS) deliveries to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (IBCT)
  9. FCS System Overview, p. 3
  10. DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS: 2009 Is a Critical Juncture for the Army’s Future Combat System, General Accountability Office, April 10, 2008
  11. GAO-08-467SP, p. 90
  12. Statement of J. Michael Gilmore, Assistant Director, The Army’s Future Combat Systems Program before the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. House of Representatives, Congressional Budget Office, April 4, 2006, p. 14
  13. A Class I is now in limited service
  14. Megan Scully (March 27, 2009), "Lawmaker says future combat systems not affordable", CongressDaily
  15. Boeing and Science Applications International Corp (April 16, 2009), Preliminary Design Review Validates Technological Maturity of Future Combat Systems Common Controller
  16. David H. Gurney (January 2009), "An Interview with George W. Casey, Jr", Joint Force Quarterly
  17. Kris Osborn (18 May 2009), "FCS Is Dead; Programs Live On: U.S. Army To Dissolve Flagship Acquisition Effort", Defense News
  18. Future Combat Systems project office, United States Army, XM1201 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Vehicles (RSVs)
  19. Future Combat Systems project office, United States Army, XM1202 Mounted Combat System (MCS)
  20. The Dupuy Institute (23 August 2000), A Brief Survey of Mine Breaching Capilities
  21. BaE Systems, BAE Systems' Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon Fires 1,000th Round
  22. BaE Systems, The U.S. Army's FCS Program Fires First Round From a Fully Automated Cannon
  23. Future Combat Systems project office, United States army (July 14, 2008), U.S Army Successfully Launches Non-Line of Sight-Launch System Precision Attack Missile