The new emphasis could impact operations at the Anniston Army Depot in the long term, according to officials with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council of Calhoun County.
Under the plan the Army would spend more on helicopters that can be used in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan and less on vehicles like Abrams tanks and Stryker armored personnel carriers.
Repair of both of those vehicles provides jobs at the Anniston Army Depot.
The Army hopes to field the new equipment within seven years, and could begin the process of awarding a new contract this fall, Army Secretary Peter Geren and Gen. George Casey, the service's chief of staff, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday.
The equipment will replace the roughly $87 billion worth of manned vehicles that Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to remove from the Army's Future Combat Systems program. That includes armored personnel carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, and a giant mobile cannon.
Future Combat Systems plans to combine heavy firepower with high-tech gadgetry, like unmanned sensors that would help soldiers fight more effectively. The roughly $160 billion program has been criticized for using unproven technology, though the Army says some of the equipment is already in use and working well. The program is overseen by Boeing Co. and SAIC Inc., but includes work by most of the nation's biggest contractors. Much of the vehicle work is done by General Dynamics Corp. and BAE Systems. Both have operations in Anniston.
Gates wants to focus defense spending on equipment toward current and future combat, which will likely include fights against insurgencies in places like Afghanistan rather than the more conventional wars the military has long planned for.
Gates has said a major reason he decided to cancel the Future Combat Systems vehicles is because they didn't adequately protect against the roadside bombs that are popular with insurgent fighters.
Casey said the new vehicle would include "lessons learned from the current fight." He and Geren did not have a cost estimate for the new equipment.
The Army's $142 billion base budget proposal is $2 billion more than the prior year, but most of the increase comes from the higher costs of fielding a larger force. The Army was able to increase the size of its active duty force to 547,000 this year, a year ahead of schedule, significantly raising personnel costs like pay, benefits and housing.
Spending on weapons would drop, a shift that reflects the Pentagon's new focus on unconventional combat.
"The Army must rethink its modernization approach," said Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Procurement dollars will be tighter as the Army faces high personnel costs."
Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce President Sherri Sumners and Nathan Hill, depot liaison for the Economic Development Council of Calhoun County, said there would likely be no immediate impact on the Depot, which employs more than 7,000 people.
"You've got to realize that the Army's requests and what actually happens are two entirely different things and I think there was a feeling that helicopters were hit kind of hard before," Sumners said. "So it kind of ebbs and flows."
Hill said while spending on the Abrams may fall he doesn't see an immediate impact because the Army still has to repair these vehicles. The depot also assembles Strykers, Hill said.
He said the depot needs to prepare for the future by repairing whatever the Army replaces the manned vehicles with.
"In the long term we all know the defense budget's going to go down unless we have another major conflict," Hill said. "I would say between the Abrams and Strykers and being prepared to repair the new (vehicles), hopefully it's not a significant impact on the depot."
Star Staff Writer Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this report.