GAO at odds on program timeline

GAO report

The Army is disputing a General Accounting Office report released last week that recommends extending the timeline for the service's multibillion-dollar effort to bring technology to the battlefield.

GAO recommends extending the time allotted for developing and demonstrating the Future Combat Systems (FCS) from three years to five, forcing the Army to abandon its goal of having the basic technology in place and working by 2010. The report said GAO had briefed representatives of the Army, the Pentagon and Congress, and that no one raised any objections.

But Army officials say now they do object.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Rudy Burwell said the service disagrees with the GAO report. "There have been no changes to previous Army releases [regarding] the timeline" about these milestones, Burwell wrote in an Aug. 14 e-mail. He added that the service remains committed to having initial FCS operations working in 2010 and having it fully operational by 2012.

FCS seeks to link 19 systems that use advanced communications and technologies to connect soldiers with air and ground platforms and sensors. The Army plans to spend about $22 billion for the program in fiscal 2004 through fiscal 2009, and several billion more for non-FCS programs required to create the "system of system," according to the report.

Paul Francis, GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, in an Aug. 13 letter to lawmakers said FCS officials have decided to do the following:

* Add about two years between milestones.

* Push back the target date for equipping the first unit with FCS to 2011, rather than the current date of 2008.

* Delay the deadline for FCS to be fully operational to fiscal 2013.

Francis said the Army initially had slated a three-year development phase for FCS, which is "unheard of." In early April, Army officials informed GAO that FCS' development had been extended by about two years. "The Army needed more time to reduce risk. This is entirely appropriate," Francis told Federal Computer Week in an interview Aug. 15.

The Army received approval May 18 to move FCS into the nearly $15 billion system development and demonstration phase. Edward "Pete" Aldridge Jr., then undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, signed the milestone B decision after a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board.

GAO officials have suggested three options, including further developing individual technologies before pushing the entire FCS into the demonstration phase, use of advanced technology demonstrations to mature key technologies and use of a knowledge-based approach for incorporating individual systems into the overall network.

"It was just a matter of time before reality caught up with them," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, which monitors space and military programs. "I think they are just being more realistic, but there are still some major issues that are unresolved that can cause some major problems."

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