Future Howitzer Mystery

27.03.08

Categorie: Industry, Politics, Pork |

nlos-c.jpgSo the Army’s got this $200-billion program called Future Combat Systems, aimed at equipping a third of our troops with new robots, sensors and hybrid-electric armored vehicles, all connected by a snazzy, secure electronic network. Sounds great, right?

Problem is, by some accounts FCS ain’t doing too well. The Army had to cut out some of the robots to keep the budget down, and now Congress is thinking of injecting an extra $20 billion into the program in order to rapidly finish some of the techs … so that we can cancel the rest and still have something to show for it.

But one of the 14 major vehicles in the FCS portfolio is bound to survive regardless. Exactly why is a mystery, to me and even to some FCS insiders I’ve talked to. The Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, or NLOS-C, is basically a faster, lighter, smarter version of today’s Paladin howitzer. But for some reason, long ago it was singled out by Congress for fast-track development. Laura Peterson over at Taxpayers for Common Sense thinks the cannon is just a front for Congressional pork. She tells us:

BAE Systems, which holds the contracts for both NLOS-C and the Paladin, will begin producing elements of NLOS-C by the end of 2008—five years before the Army is scheduled to put core FCS elements into production.

That’s because a couple of well-placed Congressmen from Oklahoma spotted an opportunity in FCS to bring some money to their homeland. In 2005, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) added language to the 2006 Defense Authorization bill establishing separate program elements for NLOS-C, thereby weaning its funding and schedule from that of FCS. He also added $50 million to the administration’s $108 million request for the weapon and inserted language in the following year’s bill ensuring full funding for the NLOS-C. Cole boasted in a press release that he “was able to use his powerful position on the Rules Committee” to negotiate the changes with House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

The Oklahoma delegation had targeted Elgin, a tiny town in the state’s southwestern corner, as a potential location for NLOS-C assembly because of its proximity to Fort Sill, where the U.S. Army’s field artillery testing operations are located. BAE systems announced last year it would move production of the NLOS-C from Minnesota to a 150,000 foot facility it will build in Elgin. The Elgin facility will be located in an industrial park currently being developed with the help of $2.2 million dollars authorized in 2004 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, then chaired by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). The city is reportedly pursuing a Tax Increment Financing district to raise further funds.

Do we really need new howitzers? Eventually, sure — but today’s Paladins are only a decade old, having been rebuilt from older howitzers during the 1990s. Maybe Laura’s on to something here.

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10 Responses to “Future Howitzer Mystery”

  1. yojoe says:

    Also, how much artillery fire have we used in the current war? Sounds like the Air Force and its love for the F-22.

  2. Joshua Foust says:

    Not to mention that big, self-propelled howitzers don’t really add anything to the fights we have and are likely to face. The M-777 seems to be a pretty great improvement over the previous towed howitzer; combined with the Excalibur GPS-guided artillery shell, I don’t see any need to build yet another big Cold War-esque weapon.

  3. FooMan says:

    let’s see how many times we can rebuild something sounds a lot like the SLEP programs for the Forestal class aircraft carriers which were promply decomissioned when they discovered that having a front combat vehicle (no matter how large) that is older than the commanding officer and has to have civilian tech living aboard to keep it running is a bad idea. The newest technology of the Paladin is the early 80’3 era digital link system for fire control. I know that I have previously spoken about the intimidation factor of old aircraft (B-52′s), but there is in fact no replacement for the bug ugly on the planet that can block out the sun and take several miles of the bad guys country and fill it with craters, but there is a difference between not having any replacement and the prospect of of one!

  4. Actually, it’s not pork. It’s less rational.

    I used to work FCS, though for the recovery vehicle, and it’s clear that this is the revenge of the artillery officer.

    The Paladin is 15 years older than the Bradley or the Abrams, and as such, the artillery officers feel left out.

    As a former co-worker said about the NLOS-C, it’s all, “Cannon, Cannon, Cannon.”

  5. Papabile says:

    Yeah… the Paladin and the chassis for it originally hit the line in 1958. This thing is 50 years old, and had a MEMORIAL resolution in the FY2007 Defense Authorization Act.

    A new artillery piece drives down O&M costs.

  6. Daverino says:

    I have to respectfully disagree on this one. I remember reading about how the Dutch were using their PZH 2000s in Afghanistan to great affect (I guess I am a fan David). And considering how old the M-109 design is, it is only prudent to have an update in the works. Sure we will be using the old workhorses for years to get as much use as we can out of them. But that does not mean we cannot try to keep up technologically with the Germans, Dutch, S.Koreans, Greeks, Italians, and Bits (with more to surely follow).

  7. ELP says:

    Don’t worry. If a fancy toy like that was in Iraq now, half of them would be used and the other half would be parked after the unit was robbed of manpower to go on foot patrols and kick down doors.

  8. sean williams says:

    Technology aside for a moment, the reduction in the crew of the NLOS-C might have some unintended consequences for a unit that fields this cannon. Specifically, the ability for a unit to maintain 24-hour operations, endure Soldier losses and maintain fighting capability, and conduct non-standard missions, like foot patrols, would be questionable with a unit that has so few people.

    I have not seen any document that outlines how a FCS field artillery battery will look in the future. However, it stands to reason the demand for a two-man crew will reduce the number of Soldiers in a M109A6 Paladin unit by roughly 50%. The Paladin battery is the present day equal to the NLOS-C and has a required crew strength of roughly 42 Soldiers to man six howitzers with four men each and six ammunition carriers with three men each. At present, a Paladin howitzer/ammo carrier section can rotate Soldiers for rest, other work jobs, and personal leave and still maintain firing capability with the reduced crew. Likewise, if one or two Soldiers are unexpectedly unable to peform their job due to sickness or injury in battle, the remaining Soldiers can man the howitzer and ammo carrier in a fight. Furthermore, in Iraq, most field artillery units conduct non-standard missions, which require the Soldiers to anything from patrols to base security. Such missions demand at least the current number of Soldiers, if not more, to complete such missions for the same reasons previously mentioned.

    If the future NLOS-C units reduce their manning requirements to fill the minimum number of people needed to operate the systems without considering the need to maintain continuous operations and endure battle losses, the expensive high-speed cannon might be silent when needed because an adequate number of Soldiers are not available to operate it.

    Submitted by Major Sean Williams, student at the Command and General Staff College, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, KS

  9. [...] Two weeks ago the Army’s semi-robotic Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) prototype, the first major weapon in the $160-billion Future Combat Systems program, fired its first round. NLOS-C reduces the current four-man howitzer crew to just two. While that will mean savings in manpower costs, there are potentially huge (and negative) implications on the battlefield, according to Major Sean Williams, a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Williams just posted this comment to an earlier entry about NLOS-C: Technology aside for a moment, the reduction in the crew of the NLOS-C might have some unintended consequences for a unit that fields this cannon. Specifically, the ability for a unit to maintain 24-hour operations, endure Soldier losses and maintain fighting capability, and conduct non-standard missions, like foot patrols, would be questionable with a unit that has so few people. [...]

  10. [...] The U.S. Army was developing a new, semi-robotic, tracked howitzer, as part of the Future Combat Systems family of vehicles. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates killed FCS, in April. The howitzer — the so-called Non Line-of-Sight Cannon — was funded separately from FCS, so wasn’t subject to the FCS termination. But the Army ordered a work stoppage, anyways, while officials sort out whether to continue the program. [...]

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