GAO questions digital battlefield plan

GAO questions digital battlefield plan

Defense CIO Arthur

Audit calls for more testing before the Army buys 3,000 ruggedized PCs

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The Army's bid to field a digitized division by the end of 2000 took a hit last month from the General Accounting Office.

The congressional watchdog organization, which questioned spending plans for some battlefield systems being developed, could jeopardize the Army's fiscal 2000 budget request of $66.4 million for vehicle-mounted, ruggedized computers.

GAO did the audit at the request of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

Specifically, GAO questioned the operational effectiveness and suitability of the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below system. Through the FBCB2 project, the Army is developing notebook computers to mount in field vehicles to give soldiers access to command and control information.

GAO questioned the Army's justification for 3,098 ruggedized notebooks for the next two fiscal years. In its report, GAO said the service has not done enough widespread testing to determine the effectiveness of the notebook systems it has been developing for the FBCB2 program.

Uncertainty persists

The report concluded that 'uncertainty will persist until the system's initial operational test and evaluation in November 2001. Since fielding of the first digitized division is scheduled to be completed by December 2000, individual system performance uncertainties will exist when the first digitized division is fielded.'

Army officials plan by December 2000 to field the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, as the first digital division. A digital corps, III Corps, which includes the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, is scheduled to be fielded by September 2004.

The service plans to digitize its remaining divisions by 2012, according to the GAO report, Battlefield Automation: Performance Uncertainties Are Likely When Army Fields its First Digitized Division.

Officials with FBCB2 contractor TRW Inc. plan to select two finalist vendors for a third version of FBCB2 vehicle-mounted computers by November, in preparation for a test by the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade in April, said Linda Javier, a TRW spokeswoman.

FBCB2's initial operational test and evaluation was originally scheduled for October, but Army officials postponed it until November 2001. GAO officials criticized the service's plan to start FBCB2 production to field the Force XXI by December 2000, even though the test was postponed.

'We believe the acquisition strategy of fielding FBCB2 before completing operational testing exposes the overall digitization initiative to greater risk,' GAO said. 'If the risk materializes into performance problems, costly fixes to FBCB2 may be required.'

In a written response to the GAO report, Defense Department chief information officer Arthur L. Money said that DOD is 'fully supportive of the Army's digitization efforts as they are a major contributor in achieving Joint Vision 2010,' a departmentwide strategy for future battlefield systems.

He said any problems with FBCB2 systems, their fielding or funding will be resolved by the department's overarching integrated product teams. 'Our OIPT process has been successful in the past in resolving similar issues,' Money said.

Although the Army has not settled on a final version for the vehicle-mounted systems, FBCB2 users like the prototypes, an Army spokesman said.

'Everything I have heard coming from the soldiers who have used FBCB2 at [the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif.] is that FBCB2 provides great situational awareness and is a great tool to use to accomplish the mission and conduct the training battle,' said Maj. Mervin Brokke, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman.

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