Challenges confront Army's next generation combat system

The Army's maligned Future Combat Systems program took another hit when congressional auditors said the project faces "substantial" technical and funding challenges and could cost as much as $16 billion.

In a recent report, the Congressional Budget Office said the Army should consider alternatives that would scale back the ambitious program and cut its costs by nearly $5 billion, although doing so could reduce the effectiveness of the program.

"Under such alternatives, the Army would incorporate some FCS technologies into its current fleet of armored vehicles and upgrade those vehicles at the same time, thereby increasing their capabilities and extending their useful lives," the report said. "However, if it did so, the Army would forgo potential benefits of the capabilities it now seeks in the FCS program."

The report is latest setback for the FCS program, which has received frequent criticism over the past year. In fact, Congress is considering cutting the service's funding request in the Defense Department appropriations bill for fiscal 2007, continuing a trend of congressional skepticism.

FCS is designed to link manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles, unattended ground sensors, and a non-line-of-sight cannon-and-launch system via a common computer network known as the System of Systems Common Operating Environment and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program. The lead systems integrator for the program is a partnership between Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego.

In its report, CBO said the program is facing considerable technological and funding hurdles that threaten its goal of initially implementing individual components by December 2014.

On the technology side, a significant problem facing the program is the software, where at least 34 million lines of new code must be generated, CBO said. Configuring the software to go along with the FCS components has already led to delays and funding increases, CBO said, and could continue being a problem.

"Overall, the different types of equipment that the FCS program plans to develop lead CBO to estimate that the Army's acquisition costs may grow by about 60 percent," the report said. "Given some defense experts' views that the program's entry into the system development and demonstration phase was premature, the FCS program may continue to experience cost growth at historical rates."

The report stated that the Army could significantly cut its costs by scaling back the FCS program, which largely includes not purchasing many of the heavy vehicles but rather focusing on implementing a scaled-down communications network.

Rob Thormeyer is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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