On the defensive

Despite claims from the Hill, Army says FCS is progressing

Soldiers from the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment load into an M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle as they conduct a combat patrol in the streets of Tall Afar, Iraq, in February 2006.

Courtesy of DOD Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force

What the future holds for the Army's Future Combat Systems depends on who you ask. Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office reports have criticized the Army's management of the program, as have industry analysts. But the Army insists that the program is progressing smoothly, and is on budget and on time.

The Army's plan to integrate FCS communications technologies into existing fighting vehicles is also raising questions. The Army says this is preliminary to fielding a fully integrated FCS ground vehicle. Others see it as the endgame for FCS.

Last year, GAO slammed two of FCS' communications pillars, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, citing both programs for faltering on requirements and schedules, and raising 'uncertainty about the ability of the FCS network to perform as intended.' GAO recommended establishing 'low-risk schedules for JTRS and WIN-T,' as a result of which the JTRS program was retrenched, and WIN-T funding and scheduling was revamped.

A CBO report released last month warned that FCS 'must surmount substantial technical and funding challenges if it is to develop and initially field all of the individual FCS components' by December 2014, as currently scheduled. The report added that cost-cutting alternatives to 'eliminate all or part of the program's ground vehicles while retaining its communications equipment ... would forgo potential benefits of the capabilities [the Army] now seeks in the FCS program.'

Army spokesperson Lt. Col. William Wiggins answered the CBO by saying that 'program risks are well understood, and are being actively and successfully managed.'
'FCS modernization remains on cost and on schedule,' he said. Any alternatives for modernizing the Army 'do not meet the National Defense Strategy and Quadrennial Defense Review operational requirements, nor are they cost effective.'

But some despair that the FCS mainstay, the Manned Ground Vehicle, a light, mobile unit also seen as a FCS integration platform, will ever see the light of day.

'I'm not holding my breath,' said Dean Lockwood, a weapons systems analyst at Forecast International of Newtown, Conn. 'The Army seems to be more concerned with spiraling developing technologies into existing vehicles than in fielding the MGV.'

'We are done with PowerPoint charts,' replied Maj. Gen. Charles Cartwright, the Army's FCS program manager, at a media teleconference in August. He maintained that 'this program has now moved into the preliminary design phase. It's about building real stuff'not only for the current force, but to build the equipment for the future modular brigades.'

An In-Process Preliminary Design Review completed last month 'represents the culmination of a number of system engineering activities over the last year,' according to Dennis Muilenburg, a Boeing vice president and program manager for the FCS Lead Systems Integrated Team, who spoke at the same media event. 'We made sure that we understood the users' requirements and translated those into design concepts that were compliant with cost, schedule and risk parameters.'

Deploying FCS technologies

FCS technologies in the form of networking kits will be deployed to existing Abrams, Bradley and Humvee vehicles beginning in about nine months, Cartwright said. These will include a Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, a package of 15 missiles with a range of 40 kilometers and equipped with a JTRS-based targeting system; Unattended Ground Sensors that inform the network whether ground has been reoccupied by the enemy after it has been cleared; an Intelligent Munitions System, a networked device for targeting vehicles; and vehicle-mounted JTRS radios.

Meanwhile, the Army is preparing the Cannon, the first MGV prototype, Cartwright said.

As to why the Army now is deploying FCS technologies on current vehicles, he said, 'We're modernizing and changing the Army as we're fighting the war.'

But Lockwood's take on FCS activity is that 'the Army thinks it won't have the funding to deploy the MGV.' In fact, he said, a successful deployment of FCS communications technologies to existing fighting vehicles could lead Congress to severely slash future FCS funding. 'The big question is whether we actually need a family of MGVs to integrate these technologies,' he said. 'The answer, apparently, is 'No'. '

'At the end of the day, FCS may be reduced to being a technology feeder, delivering technologies the Army is developing to the boots on the ground,' Lockwood said.

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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