The Army's FCS Hangover


One of these days, a story is going to come out on where all the money went in the Army’s Future Combat Systems program. According to the Congressional Budget Office (.pdf), by 2008 the Army had spent some $16 billion on FCS development. Add to that the $3.6 billion in 2009 and the $3 billion requested in 2010 and now we’re at $22.6 billion in FCS research and development.

When the Army restructured its modernization, after Defense Secretary Robert Gates cancelled FCS, it planned to get those component parts closest to prime time, the “spin outs,” to the troops in the field as quickly as possible.

So what has that $22.6 billion in FCS development money bought? Here’s where it gets real ugly. GAO just came out with its annual assessment of major weapons systems (.pdf) and they looked at the first increment of those spin outs which includes unattended munitions, including the Non-Line-Of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), sensors, a small hovering drone, a small robot, new radios and software.

The small iRobot-type robot, hundreds of which have been in use in Iraq and Afghanistan, “could not provide infrared imagery necessary to recognize a person at required distances,” GAO said. The hovering “beer keg” is far too noisy, and could only operate for 4 hours before failure, instead of the required 23. The unattended ground sensor was supposed to operate for 127 hours, it only works for 5 hours. Army officials say the images it produces are terrible.

The NLOS-LS, as we’ve written about here, failed in recent tests to hit its intended target in four out of six tries. Army Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, the service’s Future Force Integration Directorate Commander, told us last month he suspects the missiles issues are serious. Remember, most of this stuff has been in development since 2003.

At least the current Army program people are forthcoming. I covered FCS circa 2005-2007 and it was really frustrating to have Boeing and Army people go on-and-on telling you to your face how well the program was performing.

The Army leadership will meet April 2 with the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, Ashton Carter, who chairs the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB), to provide a progress report on the spin outs. The board will look at the above technologies, the status of the NLOS-LS, as well as progress with the battle command network and integration with the Joint Tactical Radio System program, according to Army spokesperson Paul Mehney.

The Army has also scheduled a demonstration next month of the increment 1 gear and the reliability fixes it has made to the stuff since the tests revealed the above noted shortcomings. We definitely look forward to seeing what progress the Army has made.

-- Greg

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