By Ann Roosevelt

The Army Chief of Staff said yesterday that the service is in discussions that will lead to some very difficult decisions in the future about modernization and future technologies.

"It would be irresponsible of us not to look to one, a modernization strategy that gave an asymmetric advantage, but also one affordable for country," Gen. George Casey said at a roundtable at the Association of the U.S. Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"As we look at one of the toughest decisions–when do you stop upgrading legacy systems," he said. "When does the service move away from Cold War systems?

Those questions are part of the discussions at the highest levels of Army leadership. There are no "cut and dry" answers. "As older systems get to the top of [their] size, weight and power capabilities, we have to look at other things."

Recently published reports have caused concerns over the service moving funding from M1 Abrams tanks, Stryker and Bradley vehicles to benefit Future Combat Systems (FCS).

Abrams and Stryker are produced by General Dynamics [GD]; Bradley is built by BAE Systems.

Members of the House Armed Services Committee have written to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the issue, and at least one House member has met with the Army vice chief of staff on the issue (Defense Daily, Oct. 1, Oct. 2).

The other part of the equation, Casey said, is to look at concepts and technologies for the future.

"We have to look very hard at new technology…we have to assess the risk of new technology coming on line on time and on schedule," Casey said.

FCS underwent a detailed scrub some six months ago, he said, and another one is coming up, where the question of whether it will be ready on time will be on the agenda.

"There are five technologies and capabilities at Ft. Bliss [Okla.], wrapping up the preliminary LUT (Limited User Test), that are now in Afghanistan being used by soldiers," Casey said. "I am comfortable where they are and are going."

Army Secretary Pete Geren said those technologies will spin out sooner than planned to infantry brigades. "They are proven and their application is proven…FCS is a multi- decade undertaking. No doubt there will be some technical challenges, [but we] continue to see progress."

While considering the technologies, it is important to make sure they are "directly relevant to the soldier," Geren said.

Geren said Congress has been "extraordinarily united" over the past seven years when it comes to supporting Army programs.

Since FCS is in progress, unpredictable funding is a problem.

However, he said, "The last seven years give some confidence the Congress will hang in there with us."

As Casey considers the future, he sees at least a decade of persistent conflict that will require land forces–not just Army forces–with six characteristics. They must be versatile, expeditionary, agile, lethal, sustainable and, most of all, interoperable."

That means forces not just on the same radio frequency, he said, but interoperable with government, indigenous forces and the interagency organizations.

Essentially, Casey said, when considering the future, systems and technology must fit within those six characteristics.

"We are working hard so that we can look ourselves in the mirror [and give soldiers] an asymmetric advantage and be affordable."