Army to pick FCS system in 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Army and industry officials will decide next year on the operating system for the service's Future Combat System (FCS) program.

Officials in the Army and the industry team of Boeing and Science Applications International Corp. began studying the issue about a year ago. They will complete the trade analysis in the middle of 2006, said Dennis Muilenberg, vice president and general manager and FCS program manager in Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems business unit. The Boeing/SAIC team helps manage the multibillion-dollar program as lead systems integrator.

The Army's next-generation of manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles will need an operating system or a conglomeration of systems to run different types of software that work in real time or near real time. FCS robotic systems, for example, require an operating system that operates in real time because of latency concerns, said Brig. Gen. Charles Cartwright, the Army's program manager for the unit of action, which refers to the brigade-type organization structure for FCS. He and Muilenberg spoke with Army officials Feb. 16 during a media briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army's Winter Symposium and Exhibition, titled "Enabling the Joint and Expeditionary Army."

Cartwright and Muilenberg downplayed rumors that they decided not to use Microsoft's Windows operating system in FCS because of security issues. The officials said they have made no such decision to date.

FCS will consist of 18 manned and unmanned air and ground systems that will fight as one connected by a fast, secure communications network. Cartwright said the network will consist of four layers: transport; middleware; applications, including the operating system; and sensors.

Software development presents the biggest risk to keeping FCS on schedule. Muilenberg said the systems will consist of 35 million lines of computer code.

Last July, Army officials announced plans to equip soldiers with some FCS technologies sooner than they originally planned. However, service officials will not deploy the first fully equipped FCS unit until 2014 -- four years behind the original schedule.

Army officials will create an experimental unit of soldiers who will train with four FCS arrangements in 2008. These systems are unattended ground sensors that detect enemy movements, programmable munitions and rockets-in-a-box that find and destroy enemy targets, and preproduction vehicles equipped with an automated howitzer, which service officials will deploy in 2010.

Army and industry officials will deliver the FCS network and manned ground vehicles last. And in a surprise announcement, Cartwright and Muilenberg said those eight vehicles would run on band rubber tracks instead of wheels.

"They give us the best of both worlds," Cartwright said, because the band tracks provide the off-road traction of the metal tracks used on existing Army tanks and personnel carriers and the on-road performance of rubber tires used on the service's new Stryker infantry carrier vehicle.

Since 1999, Army and industry officials debated the pros and cons of tracks and wheels. They said FCS manned ground vehicles would probably consist of both.

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