GAO report: Benefits of Army digitization program uncertain

The Army has not produced conclusive evidence that its $20 billion plan to field dozens of advanced information systems to help soldiers exchange information will make its forces more effective on the battlefield, according to a General Accounting Office report released last week.

The report, "Battlefield Automation: Performance Uncertainties are Likely When the Army Fields its First Digitized Division," found that the results of past field evaluations of the Army's digitization effort "have been inconclusive" and showed "no significant increase" in the ability of soldiers armed with information systems to carry out battle operations.

More importantly, even if systems testing, scheduled for November 2001, proves successful, it may be two to three years before officials know if fielding the systems has had any benefit, the report stated.

The report also revealed that the Army plans to field the linchpin command and control system of its digitization effort, known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2), before it can fully test and evaluate the system's capabilities and interoperability. This will result in Army units receiving systems that have not been proven to work and that personnel have not been trained to use, the report stated.

"This means that if current procurement plans proceed, the Army will have obligated $128.5 million [through fiscal 2001] to purchase and install about two-thirds of the systems needed for the first digitized corps without conclusive determinations," according to the report.

The Army's plans call for equipping the first digitized division—the Fourth Infantry Division—by December 2000 and the first corps-sized unit by the end of fiscal 2004. Remaining divisions throughout the Army will be equipped between 2010 and 2012, according to GAO. However, changes and delays in the program have resulted in a "highly risky" acquisition strategy, the report stated.

Army officials did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

However, in the department's official written response to the report, Art Money, the senior civilian official serving as the assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, said DOD "is fully supportive of the Army's digitization effort."

In addition, Money said the Army's plan for low-rate fielding of FBCB2 prior to testing and evaluation "included a detailed justification," and testing of FBCB2 "is a major issue being addressed" at DOD integrated product team meetings.

Martin Libicki, a defense analyst with Rand Corp. specializing in information warfare and information operations, said there are many ways of looking at the Army's current digitization plans, but results of previous field experiments have been mediocre. "It could be that [digitization of the battlefield] is a much more profound [change] than the Army understands," Libicki said. "Or, we may be asking too much from command and control [technologies]," he said.

According to Libicki, although the Army's investment in digitization seems quite steep, given the findings of the GAO report, the uncertain nature of the military threat facing the Army in the future makes the investment a wise decision.


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