So 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.