Q&A with Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes

Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for programs, is tasked with a tall order: ensuring the Army is well-equipped and -positioned for the future. This includes the Army’s flagship modernization program, the Future Combat Systems (FCS), an ambitious $160 billion endeavor to link manned and unmanned vehicles and aircraft through an impenetrable communications network.

Q: How is the Army modernizing in a time of war, and how are you factoring in the tight budget environment?

About every decade, the Army has been in the process of updating its doctrine, what we call a capstone document that reflects on how we fight. What we are seeing today, in some way, is a vision of the future. It does not mean we are going to be involved in counterinsurgency operations exclusively, but it means that they are an enduring part of what must be our core competency, even as we are also capable of doing high-intensity conflict and even if we have to do peacekeeping operations as well.

We’ve got to be a flexible, agile force. We have to be one that is able to operate in an environment of persistent conflict. The next tension in our force is current versus future — and that is a tension. What we have found is some question about whether investments in the future are necessary and vital in today’s era, and our answer is that they absolutely are. People understand that the Future Combat Systems is vital and is relevant.

Q: FCS has been the flagship of Army modernization, but it has been on paper and in development for a long time. Has that vision of FCS changed? Has the definition changed?

Yes, the definition has changed in important ways over the course of the years. It changed as we better understood the battlefield and also as a result of how we changed and evolved our force structure. For the foreseeable future we are going to have different kinds of brigades: infantry brigades, Stryker brigades and heavy brigades. [Strykers are light-armored vehicles used in combat. Heavy brigades are those that include tanks and other larger fighting vehicles.]

Q: You are essentially talking about having three types of mechanized brigades. Don’t all of them come with different development, logistics and maintenance?

What you have right now is the Stryker brigade, and the Stryker brigade will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Then we are going to take the heavy brigade combat teams and replace at least 15 of those with the FCS brigade, so the intent here would be to essentially over time take the heavy brigade out of the inventory. For a period of time, we would have the Stryker brigade, the remaining heavy brigade combat teams and we would also have the future brigade combat teams. The goal is to purify, simplify.

Q: Is the Manned Ground Vehicle — a central element of the FCS effort — eventually going to take over for the tank?

It will take over for the Bradley [Fighting Vehicle], the tank, the infantry carrier, the medical evacuation vehicle. All those vehicles will have a common solution: a vehicle that is 70 percent common that just has a different package that enables you to be the modern equivalent of the tank or the infantry carrier.
Q: The war supplementals have helped the Army modernize the Bradleys and the Abrams tanks and also do things that some in Congress said could have been done out of the regular budget. How is the Army planning its future when it cannot rely on supplementals?

This is the challenge that we have to address. We will have to build a base program that will go out through 2015. What we are going to have to do is recognize that for the foreseeable future we are going to face an assumption, at least through fiscal year 2011, of continued high-operational demand. We are saying right now that will be about 15 active component brigades and about five reserve component brigade equivalents.

We are … going to take care of as much of the actual cost of operating the Army as we can in the base budget. There are certain costs that over the last several years have been borne heavily in supplemental funding, and at least for the immediate future it appears [there are some things] that would remain a supplemental funding choice [such as] reset of forces that have come back from combat. We are agnostic about the source of money so long as we get the money and it is predictable.

If somebody were to say that reset isn’t going to be borne in supplemental funding, then it would be an appropriate question to ask whether the base budget be adjusted. We have identified about $20 billion worth of cost that has migrated out of the base into supplemental — training and reset and some personnel resources. From the Army’s view, this would require some form of an upward adjustment in the base budget to accommodate that need.

Q: Is the idea of FCS a placeholder to protect the Army’s money for modernization?

Actually, I would hope that is the case. There is great appeal to what we are doing. The challenge is because you have a massive program, you also have mass funding, so what we found is, conversely, that it is also a target for discussion [for budget cuts]. When it’s become a target, the explanation has been so compelling that people are becoming converts. They are also starting to see the results of the technology. It does protect [the modernization money] but it also invites constant oversight and constant interest.

Q: Have you figured out what is going to happen to the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles? [The Army has been using many of these vehicles in Iraq to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, but it is unclear how they fit into the Army’s future.]

We have several studies under way right now that essentially are looking at the future of MRAP. Now we have the challenge of saying, How do we integrate them into the force? Integrating the current interim requirement of about 10,000 over time when you look at a light tactical wheeled vehicle formation of over 140,000 vehicles should not be a major problem. In other words, the first place that I would look at is where do you put them in Army pre-position sets. They would obviously have enormous utility in that context. The challenge that the Army is looking at right now is what capabilities would be best served by the MRAPs.