Army speeds up some future combat technology

Army officials plan to equip soldiers with some Future Combat System (FCS) technologies sooner than they had originally planned. However, service officials will not deploy the first fully equipped FCS unit until 2014 — four years behind the original schedule.

Army officials will create an experimental unit of soldiers who will train with four FCS systems in 2008. These systems are unattended ground sensors that detect enemy movements, programmable munitions and rockets-in-a-box that both find enemy targets and destroy them, and preproduction vehicles equipped with an automated howitzer that service officials will deploy in 2010, said Lt. Gen. Joe Yakovac, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

Yakovac said the experimental unit will work out new force structure and communications networking guidelines. "This is about getting FCS right," he said during a recent media briefing at the Pentagon.

Adjusting the multibillion-dollar program's schedule will get certain warfighting capabilities to soldiers faster, according to Army officials testifying last week before Congress and speaking at the news briefing. Changes also will allow service officials more time to develop intricate systems including the network that makes the 18 FCS systems fight as one. Additionally, they will have a better chance of deploying the first FCS unit by 2014, they said.

The program started in 2000 under the leadership of Eric Shinseki, who retired last year as Army chief of staff. Shinseki planned to deploy FCS technologies in 2008, and he wanted the first FCS unit ready for combat in 2010.

FCS consists of 18 light manned and robotic air and ground vehicles connected by a fast, secure communications network. The warfighting system will come with new logistics, propulsion, protection, targeting and firing technologies to give commanders improved land warfare capabilities by getting to wars quicker, killing enemy targets faster and staying in battles longer.

The Army's adjustment of the FCS program and schedule marks a major restructuring, a multiyear delay in deploying the system and a 25 percent increase in acquisition costs, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

"The Army is correctly billing that it is accelerating some of the fielding of FCS technologies," he said. "But it is just as accurate to say that the service is delaying some of the elements."

Army officials expect to deploy four of the 18 FCS systems in 2008, three by 2010, three more in 2012, and the network and the remaining eight by 2014, said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff. He said service officials plan to deploy the second fully equipped FCS unit in 2015 and two more each year after that.

Earlier this month, officials from the Defense Department's Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Army, Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp. -- the two companies helping the service manage the program -- met to review the network and the design of the operating system called the System of Systems Common Operating Environment, said Brig. Gen. Charles Cartwright, project manager for FCS.

Software developers from Boeing and SAIC built the first version of the operating system by combining several computer languages. However, the object-oriented C++ language dominates the projected 30 million to 40 million lines of code that will drive the operating system, Cartwright said.

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