Standing Up for Future Combat Systems

"Id say weve done a reasonable job of managing the balance between risk and reward reward being the ultimate performance of the system," said Dr. Thomas Killion, the Army's chief scientist, of Future Combat Systems during a January interview in his Pentagon office. "And were very cognizant of the risk associated with the various systems."In recent months, the sprawling, ambitious FCS program -- meant to equip a third of the Army's 70 combat brigades with a family of new networked vehicles at a cost of around $300 billion -- has taken a couple big hits. Several of the program's airborne and ground robots have been deferred and more cuts are looming as the defense budget gets squeezed by war costs. FCS, with its delicate "system of systems" approach, remains a big technological risk in many lawmakers' minds, making it vulnerable to gradual paring. Still, Dr. Killion remains optimistic:

Yes, weve gone forward with some risk, but I think were managing that risk in a reasonable fashion. Every time weve gone through an independent review where Ive put people together from outside to review the technology for FCS, theyve come back saying youre doing a reasonable job managing risk and we believe youll ultimately be successful. I know there are a lot of questions out there about [technology readiness levels] and FCS, but were doing a reasonable job when you go in and look at the details. ...What a lot of people would like us to do is manage it as piece-parts, essentially like traditional acquisition programs: platform X, platform Y and so on, each one managed as a separate program. Personally, I think that that would add new risk and complication to fielding the next generation of systems to the Army.Look at what FCS was intended to do that is, to achieve as much commonality as possible across platforms so that we have a common logistics tail, common sets of components which reduces production costs, and also (and I think the biggest thing) to ensure interoperability in software and subsystems cutting across those various platforms. What weve had in the past are things like the Abrams [tank] and the Bradley [fighting vehicle], where we spent a lot of time and effort in the digitization period in late 90s figuring out how to kluge together capabilities to make those platforms talk to one another. FCS, its designed in from the beginning that these systems will talk to one another and collaborate, because they share a common operating environment, common communications environments and common interfaces. We ensure from the beginning that all these platforms share the capabilities we want them to and can work together as a team, both manned and unmanned systems.
Read the whole interview in the new issue of Defense Technology International.--David Axe, cross-posted at War Is Boring
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