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ATL Chief Questions FCS Spin Outs

Last month, we reported that the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board approved with conditions the low rate production for the Army’s collection of FCS “spin outs,” collectively known as Increment 1 Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (EIBCT). These include: the Non Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS), Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and the Network Integration Kit (NIK).

Following Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ cancellation of FCS last year, the Army rolled out a new modernization strategy that included getting at least some of the FCS technologies in development over the past seven years into the hands of soldiers by 2011 and then fielding “capability packages” to combat brigades in two year increments.

Yet, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter’s Acquisition Decision Memorandum giving the go-ahead raises some serious questions about the Army’s whole modernization strategy. Carter approved building only enough of the new gear to outfit a single brigade while capping long lead funding for more gear at $70 million and limiting NLOS-LS funding at $35 million, until further tests prove the missile works.

Carter told the Army rush to the field whatever bits and pieces are deemed far enough along to prove useful to soldiers on the battlefield and to delay those components that don’t show promise. “I believe this flexibility will allow the Department to best support Secretary Gates’ direction to “win the wars we are in,”” he wrote.

Carter also flagged serious reliability issues with the various sensors, the missiles and the network that have come to light as soldiers have tested the various technologies intended to equip the EIBCT. The network is far from ready as the radios and waveforms have performed poorly. Also, the NLOS-LS has yet to prove it’s worth the cost of the system in “relevant scenarios.”

Perhaps the biggest red flag should be raised over this sentence in the memo: “we lack a clear operational perspective of the value of this increment of the network.” The Army couldn’t explain clearly or convincingly enough what value added is gained from the FCS network? The Army has been trying to build out the FCS battle command and control network for going on seven years now. Yet, the “low hanging” fruit, the FCS equipment that was closest to prime time, has so far shown little practical utility.

In fact, Carter’s memo directs the Army to conduct a shoot-off between current combat brigades and the newly equipped EIBCT to find out whether the FCS technologies would be of any real use in Afghanistan. He wants a “detailed description of the metrics and the key discriminators” by which to compare the effectiveness of the EIBCT by the end of the month.

The Army has been saying for years now that the FCS spin-outs will provide vastly superior weaponry to soldiers in the field. It looks like the service will get a chance to demonstrate whether its flagship modernization program has produced anything worthwhile.

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