GAO: Army's FCS initiative faces uncertain future

The major communications programs that will support the Army's transformational Future Combat Systems initiative are in jeopardy of failing to meet technical challenges and an accelerated schedule, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report released today, GAO found that each of the communications pillars of the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program'two Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) clusters, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) program and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE)'would likely fail to meet aggressive schedules due to immature technologies.

'As currently structured, the JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE programs are at risk of not delivering intended capabilities when needed, particularly for the first spiral of FCS,' according to GAO. 'They continue to struggle to meet an ambitious set of user requirements, steep technical challenges and stringent time frames.'

FCS is designed to link 18 manned and unmanned weapons systems via a common computer network known as WIN-T and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment.

The Army restructured its FCS program last year into spirals, with officials announcing the first spiral would happen in fiscal 2008. But GAO said the first spiral may not demonstrate key networking capabilities.

GAO found the FCS program faces network, developmental and financial challenges that continue to slow progress. FCS' information network is dependent on the success of JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE'programs that are not included in FCS costs.

'Because JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE all rely on significant advances in current technologies and capabilities and must be fully integrated to realize FCS, there are substantial risks to this effort,' wrote Paul L. Francis, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, in the report.

Francis said the Defense Department directed the Army to stop work on the JTRS Cluster 1 program while DOD runs an assessment to determine the way ahead for the software-programmable, ground vehicle and helicopter radios.

JTRS Cluster 5, the smaller radios for soldiers to carry, has also had technical challenges and program changes that have impeded progress, Francis said.

With WIN-T, Francis said, the program strategy has shifted several times. Furthermore, technologies in WIN-T are all being built interdependent of one another, which means a failure in development of one may result in a lag in the overall development of another, GAO found.

SOSCOE is expected to tie together all FCS systems, enabling interoperability with current and future force systems. But the Army has assessed SOSCOE software development and availability as 'high risk,' GAO found.

GAO reviewed the communications programs from January 2004 through May 2005, studying program acquisition reports, technology readiness assessments, test and evaluation plans, and cost performance reports.

Francis recommended DOD establish low-risk schedules for demonstrating JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE capabilities; synchronize the FCS spiral schedule with fielding schedules for the communications programs; and develop an operational test and evaluation strategy for FCS spiral production decisions.

The Defense Department agreed with most of the recommendations. 'In recognition that FCS will initially field a mix of both new and legacy communications and network capabilities, DOD will stress iterative operational test and evaluation that ensures strong capability verification and validation,' a Defense official wrote in response to the GAO report.

But the Defense official said as capabilities for the Future Combat Systems are rolled out, 'the FCS spirals will make use of technologies as they become available.'

He added that the Army did not define the first FCS spiral around the communications network, but around the capabilities needed by the current force.

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