House committee looks to rein in spending on FCS

The House Armed Services Committee is questioning whether available technology can fulfill the Army's vision of transformation.

Concerned about the progress and escalating cost of the Future Combat Systems program, lawmakers last month sliced $400 million from the Defense Department's $3.4 billion program request for fiscal 2006 during the markup of the Defense Authorization bill.

The committee stressed the need to rein in the escalating cost of major procurement programs such as FCS, and members said the Army should restructure the $107 billion program until technology matures.

'The committee has numerous concerns with the Future Combat Systems program. Reasons include technology immaturity, lack of firm requirements, unknown program costs and duplicative programs,' said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), committee chairman, during markup of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Bill. 'Therefore, the committee believes the FCS program should be restructured until mature technology is demonstrated in relevant environments, requirements are determined and program costs are known.'

Between 2004 and 2009, the Army's projected costs for FCS rose from $19 billion to $30.3 billion, according to the committee. In its markup of the bill, the committee included a requirement that the comptroller general submit to Congress an annual review of the FCS program detailing whether the systems development and demonstration phase of the program is meeting established performance, technology readiness, cost and schedule goals.

The Army declined to comment on the proposed budget cuts and new reporting guidelines.

'We don't comment on congressional language at this stage of the legislative process,' said Ken Jarvis, director of public affairs for Future Combat Systems.

FCS is designed to link 18 manned and unmanned weapons systems via a common computer network known as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last month authorized the full $3.4 billion for FCS'setting up a conference committee showdown with the House.

The House will vote on the authorization bill later this month, while the Senate has not set a date to bring the legislation to the floor.

GAO also concerned

The House's concerns mirror a Government Accountability Office report earlier this year that said the FCS program faces network, developmental and financial challenges that continue to slow progress. FCS' information network is de- pendent on the success of the Joint Tactical Radio System and WIN-T, two programs facing significant technical challenges and aggressive schedules that threaten the fielding of future force capabilities, according to GAO.

JTRS and WIN-T are separate programs that are not included in FCS costs.

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, applauded Congress for getting involved in the ambitious program and questioning some of the Army's assertions.

'There is nothing wrong with Congress inserting itself in the process, asking tough questions, casting a skeptical eye on some of the more ambitious claims made for this program, and honoring some parts of the Army's relevant budget request more than others,' O'Hanlon said.
'FCS is an important concept, but in fact it is many concepts merged together, some much more achievable in short order than others, and the Army has itself altered the priorities as- signed to various elements of the overall program in recent years,' he said.

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey announced recently that the service would restructure the contractual and managerial aspects of the program. As part of the re- structuring, Harvey is establishing an Army Modular Force Integration Office to ensure technologies are moved into troop systems as soon as they are available.

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