Network still an FCS headache

BOSTON — The network for the Future Combat System remains the largest question mark in the Army's transformation efforts, according to an Army commander.

FCS seeks to link 18 systems that connect soldiers with air and ground platforms and sensors. The Army plans to spend about $22 billion for the program from fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2009 and several billion more for non-FCS programs required to create the system of systems.

"The most important aspect of that Future Combat System is the network," said Army Gen. Kevin Byrnes, commanding general at the Army's Training and Doctrine (Tradoc) command. "FCS is one network and 18 systems that support it, and every one of those systems supports the network. But if we are going to trade mass for knowledge, we've got to have the accessibility, the connectivity, the interfaces that allow information and intelligence to move around the battlefield."

Byrnes, speaking here at the Milcom 2003 conference, said connectivity remains the sticking point that will make or break the transformation efforts behind Future Combat System.

Without connectivity, the force gets larger, more kinetic and has a larger footprint, "and we lose," he said.

Tradoc absorbed the Objective Force Task Force earlier this month, the organization responsible for overseeing the development and milestones associated with FCS. Byrnes said his organization is focusing first on the future system and specifically its network.

"[The network] is the only program I'm looking at," he said. "I will not look at mortars, artillery, infantry or vehicles until I get the network straight."

Nobody is failing on the project, but if it were to fail, the network would be the most likely cause, Byrnes said.

"The network still has issues with architectures and interfaces and how it's all going to come together," he said. "I know we haven't sorted out the architectures yet, and the lead systems integrator is working on it, but we're not there yet."

Technology exists to bridge gaps in the network, but the problem is the size of the force being supported, said Army Brig. Gen. Greg Premo, deputy commanding general of the Army Signal Center in Fort Gordon, Ga.

"When you field the entire force as it's fielded in Iraq right now, it's a scale problem," Premo said. "One artifact, two artifacts is no problem. A thousand with the integrated network management, with [Satellite-command] support, with frequency management, with applications transiting ... it's the scale that presents the problem."

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