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Major Failings In Army Spin Outs

Lots of detail came out during yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee on problems with the Army’s FCS technological “spin outs,” those items of equipment that were deemed most promising from the cancelled FCS program.

David Duma, OSD’s principal deputy director for operational testing and evaluation (OT&E), said recent limited user tests (LUT) conducted in August and September of last year and again in February, showed every bit of gear had “notable performance deficiencies.”

We’ve written before about the failed tests of the Non-Line of Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS), and Duma provided more details. During the most recent tests carried out in February, new navigation software caused six of seven total system aborts. Overall missile reliability is just 61 percent, well below the 85 percent requirement. The missile’s problems appear to be with its infrared seeker; missiles using the IR seeker hit only 5 out of 11 times during tests last year and again this year.

During the LUT in February, the first operational flight test of the NLOS-LS, only two of the Precision Attack Munition missiles hit their targets; two missiles impacted more than more than 14 kilometers from the target. The Army has identified some of the problems, including data misinterpretation by the missile’s onboard computer, motor problems and a circuit board failure. OSD recommended that the Army conduct more flight tests once the problems have been corrected.

Duma said the Class I hovering drone, the “flying beer keg,” had so many mechanical issues that the test companies and platoons kicked them all upstairs to battalion headquarters where they could be cannibalized for parts to keep at least a few operating. The Class I is supposed to be a “back-packable” small unit drone; he said an evaluation of its effectiveness cannot be made at this time because the troops didn’t even use it as intended.

The small robot, or Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle Block I (SUGV), was able to transmit still images, but only in daylight, it can't see at night. The SUGV’s biggest problem, Duma noted, was the radio controller didn’t work at distances beyond 75 meters in and around buildings; far short of the 1,000 meter requirement. “These short tele-operation ranges exposed SUGV operators to hostile fire. Several operators were evaluated as killed during the LUT.” Also, when thrown through a window, the robot often broke.

The small cameras on remote sensors, the Tactical Unattended Ground Sensors (T-UGS), “provided no actionable intelligence to the test unit, with half of its photo images blank or blurry.”

Duma noted all of the technologies failed on reliability and the Army must fix those problems with an “extensive” redesign effort. Another LUT is scheduled for September.

Army Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox, Deputy Chief of Staff Army G-8, acknowledged that recent tests revealed that many of the FCS technological spin outs failed. But the Army feels that there’s little risk in going ahead with the development of the various items. If further development proves fruitless, Lennox said the program will be chopped. “If equipment is not ready to be put in the hands of soldiers, we won’t put it in the hands of soldiers.”

The Army is and has made improvements and modifications to the equipment, he said: “What we’re asking for is the patience to test this again.”

He said brigade commanders emphasized the overriding importance of getting the network down to smaller echelons, to mobile units and providing larger data pipes. Battlefield commanders told the Army leadership “amazing things” will happen if they can connect the digital data pipes to units on the move, he said.

Also testifying was GAO’s Michael Sullivan, who said results of the post FCS modernization efforts are “mixed,” and since development and procurement will cost the Army some $24 billion between 2011 and 2015, “it’s critical to get things right at this time.” He noted that the plan to field the new Ground Combat Vehicle within seven years is “fairly quick,” but probably doable.

A somewhat exasperated subcommittee chair Sen. Joe Lieberman asked Army officials to explain the failure of FCS and other recent modernization efforts. “We overreached,” on FCS, Lennox said. “We were counting on a series of, not miracles, but important things to happen technologically in order for that system to develop and develop on time.”

He contrasted FCS with the current GCV effort, where the Army is sticking with “mature” technologies and going with an incremental, not revolutionary, approach. Because GCV technologies are farther along, “we won’t run into as many surprises that would cause cost overruns and delays,” Lennox said.

“We’re not asking industry to go off and invent something,” with GCV components, said Lt. Gen. William Phillips, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition. For example, the armor that will be used has already been developed.

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