Army racing the clock for Objective Force

The Army is in an all-out sprint as it tries to meet the aggressive timetable for fielding its new strategy for using information technology to improve the service's warfighting capabilities.

The Army is using new training, acquisition and development techniques in its attempt to field the Objective Force by the end of the decade. The Objective Force is a strategy to develop advanced IT tools, vehicles and weapons that will make the Army's armored forces better able to survive an all-out fight. The first unit is scheduled to be equipped in 2008, with initial operational capability by 2010. But there are still some questions about whether the efforts to develop new training and buying strategies will be enough to meet the deadlines.

The Army has devoted 97 percent of its fiscal 2003 science and technology budget to develop the Objective Force, including Future Combat Systems (FCS), which will equip Army vehicles with information and communications systems to give soldiers capabilities for command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance, direct and nonline-of-sight weapons firing, and personnel transport.

"The good news is that we have all the support of our leadership," said Army chief information officer Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello during last month's Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. But "we're not moving fast enough on transformation or getting capabilities in the field now."

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, which monitors space and military programs, said that "an 'initial' operational capability of some pieces is doable by 2008," but other pieces won't be ready until about 2015.

"Dribbling out various FCS pieces over a period of years is going to create doctrine and training problems for the users," Pike said. "In principle, these are manageable, but in practice, managing these problems will be a real headache for the troops. Worth the trouble, and worth the wait, but translating PowerPoint into power projection is easier said than done."

Cuviello said the Army is addressing training through its Advanced Distributed Learning program and other Web-based methods that not only supplement traditional classroom instruction but also refresh deployed soldiers.

Furthermore, as the service increasingly adopts commercial technologies, training becomes easier, Cuviello said. He added that the Army's commercial strategy also is reflected in the service's recent requests for proposals. In those RFPs, "you don't see a lot of [research and development] because we're hoping to save it all for procurement," he said.

Col. William Johnson, FCS program manager, said the Army is "rallying itself around" the program, which is viewed as a catalyst for the service's overall transformation into the Objective Force.

Johnson said FCS is a "soldier-centric system" that will enable an Army brigade to network and share information with all military services and U.S. allies in a coalition environment. He added that the Army is currently talking to coalition partners in Asia and Europe to get their input on FCS'architectural development efforts.

FCS' emerging designs for the first unit with advanced capabilities include this scenario: about 2,145 soldiers capable of being deployed worldwide within 96 hours in a C-130 aircraft for "intratheater agility," Johnson said.

The FCS lead systems integrator team, Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp., was awarded a $154 million contract in March and is responsible for developing an operational architecture that will link the communications components of systems so that the Army can determine requirements for air, land and space environments, Cuviello said.

"We don't know what the platforms are," he said. "We have an architecture to tie those together, but there's no meat to it" because critical issues such as bandwidth and information exchange requirements have not been resolved. "We can't tell if there's massive needs for each [ground or airborne] platform. We don't know yet."

The Army, working with the Boeing/SAIC team, last month awarded 68 additional contracts, totaling more than $8 million, to more than 25 companies to develop the FCS specifications, said Jerry McElwee, Boeing vice president and FCS program manager.

The lead systems integrators' primary concern is meeting the Army's aggressive schedule, which is achievable, McElwee said.

"From the [lead systems integrator] perspective, once we've designed it, we'll buy the [parts] just in time, integrate, validate and move on," he said. "We have the will. We have the funding. Technology will continue to develop at its current pace or faster, and we will meet the Army's deadline."

The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) will play an important role in FCS, Cuviello said. JTRS uses software-centric radios that can be programmed to patch users into various radio frequencies. "We know JTRS is the key to this thing and will be embedded in all of these platforms," he said.

Steve Marion, program director for FCS supplier management at Boeing, said an RFP to be released in January will include the full scope of architectures and specifications. McElwee added that FCS' system design and demonstration phase, slated to begin next spring pending DOD approval, is estimated to cost between $5 billion and $7 billion.

Lt. Gen. John Riggs, director of the Objective Force Task Force, said a white paper, "The Objective Force in 2015," examines all aspects of the service's ongoing transformation. The report, currently in draft form and scheduled for completion Nov. 15, was preplanned and is not a reaction to concerns that the Army's timelines are unattainable, Riggs said.

"The questioning of aggressive timelines is healthy," he said.

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Objective Force to link Army, intelligence

The Objective Force's intelligence capabilities will require synchronization with the other military services and national security agencies. The problem with such coordination is not technology, but establishing new tactics, techniques and procedures, said Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan Jr., Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

Noonan said he has been conducting high-level meetings with intelligence stakeholders to explain the Army's needs. That way, policies can be changed to declassify information at a certain level, and it can be sent to a commander in the field as soon as possible.

"It's a policy issue, not a technology issue," Noonan said. "My goal is 'Google with a clearance' to just get what I need for my portion of the battlefield," as opposed to current methods that flood commanders with superfluous data from numerous sources.

Some security personnel have expressed concerns over the implications of declassifying and sharing intelligence, but the feedback from leaders has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

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