GAO says Future Combat Systems pillars are on shaky ground

The major communications systems that will connect the manned and unmanned vehicles of the Army's Future Combat Systems program will likely fail to meet technical challenges and an accelerated schedule, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report released this month, GAO said each of the communications pillars of the Army's Future Combat Systems program'two Joint Tactical Radio System clusters, the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment'were running behind schedule 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 the FCS program last year into phases it describes as spirals, with officials announcing the first spiral would roll out in fiscal 2008. But GAO said the first spiral might not demonstrate key networking capabilities.

The Defense Department countered that the communications programs will not delay FCS spirals.
'The FCS spirals will make use of technologies as they become available,' according to DOD's response.

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,' Paul L. Francis, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, wrote in the report.

Francis said the Defense Department directed the Army to stop work on JTRS Cluster 1 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.

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

In September, the Army revised its acquisition strategy for the $10 billion WIN-T program, naming General Dynamics Corp. as the prime contractor and Lockheed Martin Corp. as the major contractor.

'Two previously competing contractors were combined into a single contractor team,' said Col. Angel Colon, WIN-T project manager. 'This change has, in fact, reduced both cost and schedule risk, and increased the likelihood of WIN-T meeting its performance objectives to support FCS.'
'FCS does not require WIN-T to support its Spiral 1, yet WIN-T will be available to support Spiral 2,' he said.

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.

DOD agreed with most of the recommendations.

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