Magazine article National Defense

Future Combat Systems under Tight Scrutiny

Magazine article National Defense

Future Combat Systems under Tight Scrutiny

Article excerpt

Much of the technology needed is not yet mature, contend Army officials

The U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems program, now heading into its development and demonstration phase, will see increased Pentagon oversight, not only as a result of its multibillion-dollar price tag, but also because of the program's lack of clear definition, said Army officials.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review FCS every year during the next five years, when the program reaches Milestone C and low-rate initial production, said Col. Russell Hrdy, the program manager for FCS lethality. The Army expects to have FCS initial operating capability by 2010.

The Pentagon's tight grip on the program review will influence FCS budgets to a great extent, said Hrdy. According to him, "price increases with oversight." The Army got approval in May to budget nearly $15 billion for FCS, as the program enters the system development and demonstration phase, or Milestone B.

The FCS program-a family of combat vehicles and robotic systems linked by a computer network-does not have the clarity that other traditional Army programs have had.

"There are several key performance parameters that are undefined," Hrdy said at a National Defense Industrial Association armaments conference. "There are technologies that are below the expected readiness level. The schedule is very aggressive and there is a disagreement with OSD on cost benefits."

In this program, Hrdy said, "We are not defining a vehicle; we are not defining a manned-ground vehicle, or a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], or a radio. We are defining a capability."

Milestone B was "the most complex thing that OSD had ever seen come across its table to decide," said Marilyn Freeman, deputy director for Armament, Vehicle and Soldier Technologies at Army headquarters.

Speaking at the armaments conference, she noted that OSD officials in many cases did not understand the Army's vision and what it wanted to achieve.

During the Milestone B certification process, "we were still getting indications that the secretary was upset, and many of the leadership did not understand our mission," she said. "They just didn't get it. They knew there was something there. They knew they wanted it to succeed. They just didn't know what it was about."

The FCS has tested the Army's ability to break away from its traditional procurement practices, said Freeman. The service took "a very complex system of systems and convinced OSD that we are going to go ahead with this, [that] it is worth spending the money ... and [that they should] trust us that we are going to deliver," she said.

One of OSDs biggest concerns was, and still is, the technology readiness level of the proposed systems. During the Milestone B certification process, OSD officials primarily questioned whether the FCS concept will ever work in an operational setting and whether the heavy reliance on computer networking will make the system vulnerable, Freeman recounted.

Pentagon officials allowed FCS to enter the SDD phase, even though the technology was less mature than typically is required, said Freeman. For most programs, that means having working prototypes. "Needless to say, we marched into this [Milestone B] with none of these things, we did not have prototypes. And yet we were trying to convince them that we should go ahead with this."

Freeman said the Army identified 31 critical technologies, encompassing areas such as network security, wide-band waveforms, precision munitions, manned/unmanned collaborations and counter-mine capabilities. The 31 technologies will need to mature to a TRL level 6 to meet the FCS requirements.

TRL level 6 means the technology was demonstrated in a relevant environment, Freeman explained. "It doesn't mean it is integrated or you have done all the work you need to do," she said.

Some of the technologies must be transferred from other programs throughout the Army and made compatible with the FCS, said Freeman. …

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