“Defense Acquisitions: Key Decisions to be made on Future Combat Systems,” March 2007
‘Inside the Army’ reported that the Government Accountability Office has recommended that the Army and Office of the Secretary of Defense adopt criteria for the Future Combat Systems program’s 2009 critical design review while simultaneously drafting an alternate plan for equipment modernization should the multibillion dollar program continue to experience developmental and budgeting difficulties.
The Defense Department concurred with the recommendation, made in a report released March 16, and said alternatives to FCS will be considered at the 2009 review.
“It is incumbent upon DOD . . . to identify alternative courses of action to equip future Army forces by the time the go/no-go decision is made on FCS. Otherwise, approval to ‘go’ may have to be given not because FCS is sufficiently developed, but because there is no other viable course of action,” the report says.
The annual study mandated by Congress warns that FCS remains a high-risk acquisition. “Confidence that the program can deliver as promised depends on high levels of demonstrated knowledge, which are yet to come,” it says. Previous reviews have also been critical.
“All key technologies should have been mature in 2003 when the program began. FCS software has doubled in size compared to original estimates and faces significant risks,” the report says. At the same time, the agency acknowledged that “the Army is attempting a disciplined approach to managing software development.”
GAO also warned that projected costs continue to rise from the initial estimate of $91.4bn in 2003, when a contract was awarded to lead systems integrator Boeing. The Army’s FCS program office now projects that the system is likely to cost $163.7bn in current year dollars. However, GAO investigators said that was a conservative figure.
“Recent independent estimates from the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Cost Analysis Improvement Group indicate that FCS acquisition costs could range from $203bn to $234 bn in inflated dollars. The independent estimate reflected several additional years and additional staffing beyond the Army’s estimate to achieve initial operational capability,” the report says. The higher figure is based primarily on projected increases in software development costs, according to GAO.
The Army and the Defense Acquisition Board disputed the higher estimate, which they say is too negative about program risks.
Meanwhile, Army program managers were asked earlier this month if there had been any negative outcomes to a three-phase experiment using FCS components. Spanning July 2006 through February 2007, Experiment 1.1 included laboratory, field and live-fire activities.
Col. Patrick Fetterman, capability manager for FCS, told an audience at the Association of the United States Army’s winter symposium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, on March 9 that there had been both negative and “ambiguous” outcomes for some of the systems.
“There were negative outcomes,” he said in response to questions from Inside the Army. “There were some things we didn’t anticipate.”
For example, Fetterman said soldiers running an exercise using one of the FCS unmanned aerial vehicle prototypes discovered a poor design concept that placed a fuel cut-off switch near a zoom switch.
“When we cut off the fuel to the vehicle in question, it was at height, at altitude,” he said. “So there was a rather spectacular event that occurred.”
He also said there were unintended consequences “on the user side.” Namely, it was difficult to know prior to experimentation when information overload would become a problem for commanders on the network.
“The question was, how much information can a platoon leader process effectively?” said Fetterman. “We give this guy information that is traditionally reserved for brigade, and many times above, leaders.”
He said that continued experimentation will help t