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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK
America's future firepower
US marines
Mobility is the key to future supremacy
By Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

A new vision for the US military is going to mean quite a lot of new hardware, but it will also mean that many cherished programmes already under way may be axed or significantly amended.

President Bush himself is unlikely to get to grips with such detail in his Annapolis speech on Friday.

But each of the armed services is going to have to take a long, hard look at what it does and at what sort of equipment it does it with.

Abrams tank

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
Traditionally the principal striking punch of the US Army has been the heavy armoured brigade based on battle tanks and a variety of other tracked support vehicles.

While they proved their worth in the 1991 Gulf War, such forces are seen as far too heavy and lumbering for the new security environment.

Crusader self-propelled gun

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
Heavy equipment programmes like the Crusader self-propelled gun could be among the first victims of the Bush cuts.

However, Crusader supporters have been mounting a spirited defence in newspaper articles and through lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.


Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The US Army has already invested heavily in trying to "digitise" its armoured forces, but while clearly enhancing their striking power this does little for their mobility.

The first "Interim Brigade Combat team" has been formed on the West Coast, built around highly capable wheeled armoured vehicles, and some pundits argue that the US Army should move to an all-wheeled force.

Land Warrior

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The Land Warrior programme is designed to harness the benefits of digital imagery and computer systems for the individual infantry soldier.

The system is cumbersome, but it works, and this sort of programme promises to revolutionise the role of the ordinary foot soldier.

Osprey V-22 Tilt rotor aircraft

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The troubled Osprey tilt-rotor has suffered accidents and scrutiny after allegations that test results have been massaged.

Intended to revolutionise the way the US Marine Corps moves from ship to shore, it has many advantages over the only alternative - new helicopters.

But that may be what the US Marine Corps has to make do with if the Osprey is axed.

F-22 Fighter

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The F-22 is the "blue-chip" combat aircraft of the future US Air Force.

Its stealth characteristics and ability to cruise at supersonic speeds further than the F-15 mean that it would be in the vanguard in any future air war.

The USAF wants 339 F-22's, but they are costly and critics argue the nation cannot afford such a "silver-bullet" force.

Joint Strike Fighter

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
Things are complicated by another major programme - the Joint Strike Fighter - intended to equip the USAF, Navy and Marine Corps along with a number of America's allies, notably Britain, which wants to buy the sea-going version for its future carriers.

Critics say that fewer F-22's should be bought, or that one or other programme should go altogether.

But the JSF's foreign links make it a much harder programme to kill. It is probably the largest defence contract ever, with huge implications for jobs and the future of the US defence industry.

B2 'Predator' bomber

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
But with more and more analysts concluding that America is going to have to develop an even longer reach as missiles make forward bases vulnerable, some experts argue that the USAF should buy more long-range bombers like the B-2.

Experiments have already been conducted in arming unmanned aerial vehicles, which look set to take on a much greater range of roles in the future.

Nimitz Class aircraft carrier

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The carrier and its associated battle group have been the centre-piece of US sea power for many years.

Critics though say they are vulnerable, that the giant Nimitz class needs to be smaller and that fewer carrier battle groups are actually needed.

They could fall from 12 to 10, but this will be strongly rejected by the Navy.

DD-21 destroyer

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The future of sea-power lies in vessels like the proposed DD-21 destroyer.

Future warships will place an emphasis upon reduced running cost quite apart from fire-power.

They could be powered by electricity and have much smaller crews than today's warships.

See also:

24 May 01 | Americas
Bush seeks 'military revolution'
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