FCS (Nearly) on the Ropes...

...But is that necessarily a bad thing? I tend to think the FCS program might have been a bit over ambitious when it was launched and has now lost a bit of its relevance as the services shift to counterinsurgency and "phase zero" operations.

I sat through an Army justification last year of how the FCS was "tailor made" for the counterinsurgency fight, but it smacked me as a sales pitch similar to the "B" designation of an F/B-22 (hey, weren't you telling telling us the F-22 was build to counter the 4th gen fighters of Russia, India and China?)...

But what has worked for the FCS -- and the Army is loath to admit it -- is that the program has acted like an accelerated S&T program. Some of the FCS components get a lot of money (and congressional support like the NLOS cannon from the Oklahoma delegation) and are sped up and fielded quicker...what the Army likes to call "spiraling."

Good, but let's not turn it into a "death" spiral. The FCS technology is definitely helpful and necessary in some Army specialties...so keep it alive. But don't let the program sink the Army under its own weight.

Here's a great story from our friends at Aviation Week which they were gracious enough to allow us to run on our front page at Military.com:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned March 10 that the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program is facing serious shortfalls and raised questions about the program's future viability.

In two new reports, the GAO takes aim at FCS. Both reports deal with acquisition issues one focusing on 2009 as a "critical juncture" for FCS and the other homing in on the program's potential network and software issues. Although progress on FCS is "commensurate with a program in early development," GAO said, the knowledge demonstrated falls "well short of a program halfway through its development schedule and its budget."

According to GAO, that situation portends additional cost increases and delays. "In the key areas of defining and developing FCS capabilities, requirements definition and preliminary designs are proceeding but not yet complete; critical technologies are immature; complementary programs are not yet synchronized; and the remaining acquisition strategy is very ambitious."

The report regarding network and software issues is equally pessimistic. "Almost five years into the program, it is not yet clear if or when the information network that is at the heart of the FCS concept can be developed, built and demonstrated by the Army and [lead systems integrator]."

The findings come at a time when the Army is spiraling out the first tendrils of the program, from the Non-Line-of-Sight-Cannon to the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), which has already undergone one restructuring. Whether the GAO reports will resonate on the Hill, perhaps resulting in cuts to certain aspects of the program, remains to be seen. One of GAO's recommendations was to "identify viable alternatives to FCS," a direction with which DOD concurred, at least in the report.

-- Christian

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