Future Combat Systems -- the U.S. Army's $117 billion plan to turn entire divisions into networked, robot-reliant forces in one fell swoop -- is over as we know it. In its place: a seemingly more sensible plan, to gradually improve units' speed, smarts, and connection to one another.The program is still called Future Combat Systems, or FCS. But instead of trying to completely reboot Army forces by 2012, the goal is to introduce more modest -- but still substantial -- improvements, starting in 2008. Only after these building-block changes are made will the sweeping overhaul kick in.At the heart of FCS is the network. It's what will allow every high-tech FCS system -- from robotic "mules" to far-seeing cannons -- to share information, and work together. And at the heart of the network is "the 'System of Systems Common Operating Environment,' which will provide a common set of services, interfaces and applications," notes Government Computer News.The SOSCOE will run on Linux. Instead of the endlessly-overlapping, proprietary networks the military uses so often today, "its an open-source system and will have many of the off-the-shelf capabilities that are there or being developed in the commercial world," said retired Lt. Gen. Dan Zanini, who now works for Science Applications International Corp., one of two companies in charge of FCS development.Also in development are the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, which will "provide the communications backbone of FCS," Government Computer News says. JTRS is a hand-held, software-based radio, which allows troops of every type to communicate with one another. Today, soldiers and marines can still be saddled on the battlefield with a half-dozen different radios. WIN-T is the mobile, wireless network for front-line troops.Each project is, by itself, a titanic, multi-billion dollar Gordian Knot of a task. But by tackling these three first, there's a chance that the larger FCS program will actually succeed in the end.
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