Force XXI oversight revisited

The Defense Department is considering whether to upgrade the level of oversight of one its key programs the Army needs to field the first "digitized" division by the end of fiscal 2000.

The program, called the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2), will constitute the primary command and control network for tactical Army units from the brigade level down to the individual soldier. Under Force XXI, the Army plans to build, by the 21st century, a military that will depend heavily on computers to fight wars.

With the FBCB2, the Army will use advanced military radios to form a tactical Internet over which Army units will send and receive information during battle. The system will complement two other command and control systems to complete the triad of the Army's Battle Command System, the Army's overall communications system for the 21st century.

DOD regulations govern how major acquisition programs such as FBCB2 are managed, including program cost, complexity and risk of failure. The undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology assigns a greater level of oversight to the more costly and riskier programs. Category I programs— those which cost more than $355 million— are accorded the greatest amount of oversight and require cost analyses and studies of alternatives. Category II and III programs generally cost less and do not require systematic oversight.

Currently, the Army categorizes FBCB2 as a Category II acquisition program, according to a recent report issued by the General Accounting Office. According to the report, the Army estimates the cost of conducting research, development, test and evaluation for FBCB2 from 1997 through 2004 to be $265 million.

However, FBCB2's overall importance to the continued success of the Army's Force XXI program, the estimated cost of research, development and testing as well as the risk involved in completing the program on schedule, require Category I oversight controls, according to GAO.

DOD has formed an Integrated Product Team to deal with these issues and determine which category is appropriate for FBCB2, according to Stanley Levine, the deputy director of the Army's digitization office. "The important thing is to get what we need in terms of oversight without overburdening the program," he said.

GAO said FBCB2 is the only major system in the Army's Battle Command System not to receive a Category I designation. However, GAO concluded, "there are additional research, development, test and evaluation costs that, when included, increase the dollar significance of [the] program to a Category I acquisition level."

GAO included in its analysis of FBCB2 the cost of upgrading the hardware and software that will be used aboard the M1A2 Abrams tank and the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle weapons systems. However, FBCB2 program officials say these costs should never have been included in the estimate for FBCB2.

"What we've said to GAO is, 'You've chosen to include things that should in no way be charged to FBCB2,' " said Robert Morig, the chief of the Acquisition and Resources Division for the digitization office. Upgrading the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle "has nothing to do with FBCB2."

More importantly, the program "faces significant schedule risk in meeting the fiscal year 2000 mandate for fielding the first digitized division," GAO said.

"I don't think there's anybody who would not say that this program is on a high-risk schedule," Morig said. However, "the program is loaded with risk mitigation events."

GAO "has a valid concern that we are trying to expedite things, but we're not cutting any testing out of the process," Levine said.

To achieve its goal of fielding a digitized division by the end of fiscal 2000, the FBCB2 program will need to pass a series of operational tests and evaluations, the last of which is scheduled for October 1999. In addition, the Army will be completing operational tests for the Abrams tank and Bradley fighting vehicle during the engineering and manufacturing phase of FBCB2.

According to GAO, officials from the Army's Abrams program office said that tank crews need about 12 months to train with new software versions before they become proficient. However, "under the current test schedule, crews would have only three months to become proficient," according to the report.

FBCB2 program officials, however, said they are confident in the capabilities provided by the software upgrades completed to date, characterizing them as a "quantum leap" from where the software was last year.

New Oversight Team

DOD has "reinforced" its oversight of FBCB2 by establishing an Overarching Integrated Product Team (OIPT), according to the department's official response to the GAO report, signed by Arthur Money, a senior civilian official. The team is "directly involved in the issues identified in [the] report, none of which are new," Money said.

According to DOD's response, the OIPT will meet this year to decide on the appropriate acquisition category for the program. But GAO remains skeptical of the time lines.

"Even with the guidance of the [OIPT], the fact that so many system development tests are being compressed to meet an 18-month schedule is, in our view, a high-risk approach to successful system development," according to GAO.

"The department is fully supportive of the Army's digitization efforts, as they are a major contributor to achieving Joint Vision 2010," Money said. "Our OIPT process has been successful in the past in resolving similar issues."

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