GAO: Pentagon must play larger role in Force XXI

The Army so far has exercised acquisition oversight over its Force XXI battlefield
digitization initiative, but the General Accounting Office contends that should change.


Defense Department senior management should scrutinize the cost and schedule risks
related to creating the first digitized battlefield, GAO said in a report late last month.


At the heart of the Army’s battlefield digitization effort is the Force XXI Battle
Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) program. For the FBCB2 program, the service is giving
notebook computers to foot soldiers and mounting notebook computers in vehicles.


The computers, known as appliques and linked over the Army’s Tactical Internet,
give brigade, battalion and company commanders data on the location and activities of both
friendly and enemy units.


DOD has classified FBCB2 as a Category II acquisition program. Such programs have a
development spending threshold of $140 million and do not require oversight by the
undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology.


But the GAO report, Battlefield Automation: Acquisition Issues Facing the Army Battle
Command, Brigade and Below Program, recommends that Defense reclassify FBCB2 as a Category
I acquisition program, which requires such oversight. Category I programs have a
development spending estimate of $355 million or more or a procurement cost of $2.1
billion of more.


“Although FBCB2 is critical to the Army’s digitization plan—the system
ties the upper-level command and control systems to the digital battlefield—FBCB2 is
the only major system in the Army’s Battle Command System that has not been
designated Category I,” the report said.


The Army expects to spend $265.4 million to develop and test FBCB2 systems.


GAO questioned the estimate. “We believe the Army’s estimate is understated
in that other costs should be added,” the report said.


GAO said a more accurate estimate is $385.7 million, which is more than $30 million
more than the Category I threshold. At $3 billion, the total procurement costs for the
FBCB2 program also would make it eligible as a Category I program.


Milestone decision authority for Category I programs is at a higher level than that of
Category II programs. The Army is concerned that the additional review and data collection
requirements associated with the Category I designation would delay the FBCB2 program, GAO
said.


The DOD acquisition process has four milestones:


The Army conducted a Milestone I and II review for FBCB2 in July 1997 and received
conditional approval to begin the engineering and manufacturing development phase, pending
completion of certain items.


The review council demanded that the Army finish its operational requirements document
and a test and evaluation master plan, GAO said.


“I can’t think of a single program over the past 10 years that has been more
open to oversight, insight and scrutiny at all levels than FBCB2,” said Lt. Gen.
William Campbell, the Army’s director of information systems for command, control,
communications and computers.


“Simply stated, we agree with the GAO assessment that the program warrants careful
oversight,” he said. But changing the acquisition classification to Category I
“would not help, and it might well invoke formalities that would hinder the
program,” Campbell said.


So far, FBCB2 has undergone no formal operational test and evaluation. It did, however,
undergo something similar to that during a Brigade-Sized Advanced Warfighting Experiment
called Task Force XXI, in March 1997 at Fort Irwin, Calif.


The AWE used a brigade from the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, that had
FBCB2 hardware and software installed in more than 1,600 vehicles. The experimental
brigade trained with the new digital equipment for eight months, then deployed to Fort
Irwin’s National Training Center for two weeks of battles with an opposing force.


Results from the AWE were “sufficiently positive” that the Army made a
conditional Milestone II decision, GAO said. But GAO said the service’s decision was
premature.


“Two independent organizations, the Army’s Operational Test and Evaluation
Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Operational Test and Evaluation
Office, assessed FBCB2 results and found a number of problems,” GAO said.


The problems included poor message completion, limitations in experimental hardware and
software from FBCB2 prime contractor TRW Inc., inadequate digital connectivity and
inadequate training, GAO said.


Nevertheless, Army officials currently assess the FBCB2 program’s technical risk
as medium. What’s risky, the service openly acknowledges, is FBCB2’s schedule.


“Despite this acknowledged schedule risk, the Army is moving ahead with its highly
compressed schedule without specifically addressing the implications of not fielding an
adequately developed system by the end of fiscal year 2000,” the GAO report said.


The Army wants to field the first digitized division by October 2000. FBCB2 will have
to pass a series of tests to meet the deadline.


“Each test requires different versions of software for each of the two hardware
components—the computer and the communications interface unit,” the GAO report
said. “The second operational test also requires that FBCB2 software be successfully
integrated into the new digitized versions of the Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting
Vehicle.”


The problem is that these combat platforms must finish their own operational tests just
prior to the start of the FBCB2 operational test, GAO said.


The report recommended that the Defense secretary direct the undersecretary of Defense
for acquisition and technology to determine whether FBCB2 should receive the Category I
designation.  

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