Lawmakers challenge Army goals

The Army's aggressive timetable for its transformation and fielding of the Objective Force carries many risks and has lawmakers from both parties questioning whether the service will be able to meet its ambitious goals.

The Army originally planned to field its first Objective Force unit by 2010, but that date has been pushed up to 2008. The Objective Force is envisioned as more deployable than the current armored forces and better able to survive an all-out fight than the current light forces.

Speaking at a March 14 meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Airland Subcommittee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee, and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), questioned whether there was significant funding and technology to accomplish that feat and whether the risks associated with it have been sufficiently addressed.

The Army has devoted 97 percent of it science and technology resources in the fiscal 2003 budget to the design and development of the Objective Force and enabling technologies, said the service's undersecretary, R. Les Brownlee, and its vice chief of staff, Gen. John Keane, in their joint testimony.

"I see it as a down payment on unaddressed requirements," said Keane, speaking about the fiscal 2003 budget. "It is ambitious and there is risk in [fielding the Objective Force this decade], but we're committed to it."

"IT and the management of information [will lead] to the radical changes that characterize transformation," Brownlee said.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that with regard to readiness, the Army "is not ready to the level I think we should be ready," and additional funding would be necessary to outfit the U.S. armed services with the best systems in the world. "Frankly, I think it's going to cost more."

Santorum said that despite the Army devoting 97 percent of its science and technology budget to the Objective Force, the service was still "very short" of the funding needed to meet its transformation goals.

Even though the Army is in its third consecutive year with billions of dollars in unfunded projects in science and technology and research and development, the service dealt with those issues after examining affordability and risk and thinks it is progressing with "risk that's bearable," Keane said.

Santorum applauded the Army's recent awarding of a $154 million lead systems integrator contract, which will help form the vision for its Future Combat Systems (FCS), to Boeing Co.'s Space and Communications group and Science Applications International Corp. But he questioned whether that group could come back with a recommendation that significant technological gains might not be available in five or six years.

FCS is envisioned to create an integrated battlespace, where networked information and communications systems provide a competitive edge to soldiers in the field and commanders in the control room.

Keane said Army officials had been struggling internally with the same questions that Santorum posed, and that a decision on the technology prospects will be made in June 2003 by Pete Aldridge, the Defense Department's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"That will be a key decision as to whether to proceed on the schedule we've outlined to you, primarily made on available technologies and [our abilities] to bring them into the Objective Force," said Keane, adding that the acquisition community is "bellyaching" over the new timetable, but that the systems integrator award is designed to help speed it up.

Brownlee echoed that and said that also was why the Army recently began performing probability of success assessments, in addition to the traditional risk assessments, of all programs. He said the "system of systems" approach for FCS "may increase risks, but it also provides more justification of the process."

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