For Army, Future starts now

'This is to bring all of the Blue Force Tracking devices together in a major architecture.'

'Maj. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army CIO-designate

The Army this month entered the development and demonstration phase of its $14.9 billion Future Combat Systems program, a project to link advanced warfighting vehicles and sensors on a network. The service also took the lead on a major initiative to develop interoperability among the military branches.

E.C. 'Pete' Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, last week approved Army plans to move FCS beyond the planning phase.

During the development phase, the lead systems integrator team of Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. will design, develop and test FCS prototypes. Computers in the program will run under the Linux operating system, according to a Boeing official working on the project.

FCS will include advanced weapons and other technology, but the key to the program is the interoperability it will derive from putting a variety of systems on a single network.

'The center of this is the network that's going to be developed,' said Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell Jr., military deputy to Claude Bolton, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Caldwell and other senior Army and industry officials met with the press last week to discuss the next phase of the program, which is now under the control of the Army's Ground Combat and Support Systems office.

'FCS is critical to the Army realizing the Objective Force,' Caldwell said, referring to the Army's long-term plan to field lighter, more agile and more powerful forces.

Lt. Gen. John Riggs, director of the Objective Force Task Force, said the connectivity planned for FCS is a goal for the entire Defense Department. 'The lesson learned through the recent conflict has been that [interoperability] is absolutely essential,' he said.

Family of systems

In February, the Army issued a request for proposals to begin work on a 'family of systems' to connect modernized equipment and weaponry for soldiers, said Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Yakovac Jr., program executive officer for Ground Combat and Support Systems. That RFP covers vehicles, sensors and software packages'a total of 23 procurements. All 23 of the RFPs are set for award by October, Yakovac said.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense will conduct the next major milestone review in 18 months, Caldwell said.

Lawmakers have sought to gain some oversight of the project. In its recent approval of a Defense spending bill for 2004, the House Armed Services Committee included a provision that authorized $1.7 billion for FCS next year only after the Army gives Congress details on the program.

The Army also will lead other military branches on a project to integrate battlefield awareness systems to better track allied forces.

The Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a Defense Department panel that oversees the development of weapons systems, asked the Army to devise an investment plan for the project and lead the development of a combined architecture for Joint Blue Force Situational Awareness.

The council directed the Army to outline a joint funding proposal for 2006 through 2011 on a system to track warfighters and weapons systems. In many systems, allied forces appear as blue on the display, while enemies are red.

'This is to bring all of the Blue Force Tracking devices together in a major architecture,' said Maj. Gen. Steven Boutelle, director of the Army's information operations, networks and space. Boutelle has been nominated to become Army CIO after Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello retires in July.

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