GAO: Army's $160B FCS program at risk

The Army's development of the data network and software that is essential to the operation of its Future Combat Systems is at risk of falling behind the rest of the program, and those delays could derail the $160 billion FCS project, according to a March 17 report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Army's FCS will consist of 14 weapons systems that will be interconnected with battlefield sensors and Army personnel over a software-defined data network that will control 95 percent of FCS' functions. Boeing is the lead systems integrator for FCS, and is in charge of defining, developing and integrating the FCS program, including development of the FCS software.

As the nerve center of the program, the network and the software that controls it will be the most important elements of FCS, and whether they operate correctly will determine the success or failure of the FCS project, the GAO study said.

Setbacks in the Army's development of its software requirements for FCS due to the immaturity of the program and the aggressive pace of the Army's development schedule, however, have led to delays, errors and omissions in the development of essential software packages for the program, while flaws in those packages have in turn delayed or threatened other development efforts, GAO said. Developers for five major software packages, for example, said that the high-level requirements they received from the Army were poorly defined, late or missing during the development process, GAO said.

The software and network technology elements of FCS will collect, process and deliver massive volumes of data such as battlefield imagery and communications, while also seamlessly interconnecting Army personnel and systems, and integrating and enhancing the performance of each of the components of FCS. According to GAO, the size and complexity of the development effort is unprecedented in the history of the Defense Department network and the final product will be the linchpin for the success or failure of the program.

Projects delays, software flaws and omissions, however, make it uncertain whether the FCS network will perform as needed, especially at critical dates in the project's schedule, GAO said. By 2009, at the FCS preliminary design review, for example, the Army might not have sufficiently defined its network requirements, including those for software, and its designs might still be incomplete, GAO said. In addition, at the project's milestone review later in 2009, the Army's ability to demonstrate network functions is expected to be very limited.

The Army's limited user test scheduled for 2012 will be the first major demonstration of the FCS network but will take place one year after the Army's critical design review for FCS and just one year before the scheduled start of FCS production, GAO said. The limited user test will be conducted after the Army finalizes its designs for FCS ground vehicles, which threatens the successful functioning of the vehicles since their designs depend on the performance of the network. Further, the full demonstration of the network and its software components isn't planned until 2013 when the fully automated battle command system for FCS is scheduled to be ready.

To keep the development of the network and its software on track and prevent delays from derailing the entire FCS project, GAO recommended that DOD maintain oversight of the program to provide stable network and software requirements for each build so that developers can follow disciplined procedures for writing software. GAO also recommended that DOD establish clear criteria for network demonstrations and acceptable performance at each of the program's key dates. DOD has evaluated and concurs with those recommendations, GAO said.

John Rendleman writes for Government Computer News, 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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