Partnerships flourish for Army's FCS program

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.?Army vehicles are no longer simply a way to move troops, weapons and supplies. Under the Future Combat Systems program, vehicles are now sensors in a networked battlefield.

Since most sensors need electricity to work, the next generation of FCS manned ground vehicles will be hybrid electric, said Major General Charles Cartwright, program manager for Future Combat Systems

"Coming off the engine is about 420 kilowatts of power, which means now for the first time you're looking at an all electric vehicle," Cartwright said at the Association of the United States Army's Winter Symposium.

Many vendors at the show are developing technologies for FCS under partnerships. The opportunities under the program are expected to grow significantly in the future, several said. The manned vehicles illustrate how things are changing.

"Round cables now become various big flat cables that move power throughout this vehicle," Cartwright said.

The vehicles are also equipped with fiber optics to connect all the onboard sensors and communications devices?all of which run on electric.

The engine is mounted on the side of the vehicle so it can be exchanged for a fuel cell if that ever becomes available. The FCS program also is addressing how to provide maintenance for the new vehicles that rely on electric rather than hydraulics found in older vehicles.

Another piece of the FCS program that took strides in the last year is unattended ground sensors, said Gregg Martin, Boeing Co.'s FCS vice president and program manager.

An urban ground sensor is placed in buildings once they are cleared. With the sensors in place troops are able monitor whether anyone has gone back into the building. There are also tactical ground sensors designed to be used in the field.

"They can be used to look at traffic in an area of interest," Martin said. "And all of that information is digested and processed through a gateway. So there are several nodes out in a field, they talk to a gateway, and process the information."

One issue being worked on under the FCS program is making sure the various radio waves being used in the battlefield do not interfere with each other.

"And how do you not fry eggs on top of the vehicles because you've got so much power up there inside these antennas from satellite systems, UHF, VHF and other waveforms," Cartwright said. "We're working to reduce the de-confliction to give them the range and capability they need."

Also part of FCS are small, unmanned vehicles that can be carried by a man. The small unmanned ground vehicle, or SUGV, can be used to clear a building or provide surveillance in a dangerous area, Martin said.

The larger multifunction utility/logistics and equipment, called the MULE, is used for a number of tasks, such as carrying an infantry squad's equipment. The Transport MULE can carry more than 2,000 pounds of equipment.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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