Visualizing the Army’s new tank

Why the network is the main battle piece in the Future Combat Systems

When you ask people to draw a tank, they usually sketch a shape with a cannon, turret and tracks. But if you ask them to illustrate a network, their hands stop.

That simple exercise epitomizes the Army’s perception problem with the Future Combat Systems (FCS). The network, not the tank, is the most crucial element in the service’s multibillion-dollar program to build its next-generation fighting force. But most soldiers and policy-makers cannot visualize it and therefore do not understand it, Army and industry officials said.

“We have a hard time communicating when it comes to building a network and its requirements,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “I find there is a great misunderstanding to what we’re doing,” he said. Yakovac, the service’s top procurement officer, spoke at a media briefing in March at the Pentagon.

Explaining the FCS network is just one part of the problem. Making it work is another, said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, in briefs published by the think tank this year.

The Pentagon is pouring tens of billions of dollars into vast networking initiatives. But the networks are so complex that they will never come to fruition, and they are so costly that they lack commercial relevance, Thompson said.

“Many observers inside and outside the [FCS] program say its overgrown network won’t work, its vehicles aren’t survivable, and there are faster, cheaper ways to get new capabilities into the field,” Thompson said.

In the annals of land warfare, networks have never been more important than tanks. But the Army is writing a new kind of history with FCS.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, knows building the FCS network will not be easy because of its technical issues. In a 2005 presentation for reporters at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, he described those issues as the toughest part of the program. Yakovac agreed. “We have moved into an era that we’re doing something different,” Yakovac said. “We want to provide a commander the ability to maneuver his network.”

The FCS network is an amalgamation of information technology architecture, hardware, software, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) system and intelligence sensors.

The Army divides the FCS network into four parts:

  • The System-of-Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE).

  • The Communications and Computer Systems.

  • The Battle Command Software.

  • The Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance system.
The SOSCOE is the IT architecture for FCS and consists of 35 million lines of computer code. It allows hardware and software in 18 systems to share information and operate as one. In December 2005, Boeing delivered SOSCOE Build 1.5, which is the common middleware in the FCS network.

“There is a lot of good progress on the network,” said Dennis Muilenburg, vice president, general manager and FCS program manager of Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems’ business unit. Boeing and Science Applications International Corp. were named the lead systems integrator for FCS in 2002 to help the Army manage the program and oversee development of the FCS network.

Muilenburg said 2006 is a transition year for the FCS network because it moves into the build, test and integration phase. He said companies working on the FCS network this year will deliver 5 million lines of code for battle command, logistics and training.

The integrated computer system, part of the communications and computer systems piece of the FCS network, will host the SOSCOE. It consists of a hybrid operating system that combines Linux with a real-time operating system running on an Intel-based computing environment.

The Linux/Intel solution provides the best common operating environment and CPU for computers in FCS, said Maj. Gen. Charles Cartwright, the Army’s program manager for the FCS Brigade Combat Team. He oversees all aspects of FCS development, including doctrine, acquisition and training.

General Dynamics and its partner Rockwell Collins are developing the integrated computer system. They will deliver the first version of the hardware in September, said Sean Simondet, chief engineer for the system at General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems business unit.

“The first hardware drop will include a computing system for Current Force Army vehicles that will use existing crew displays, such as” the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system, Simondet said. FBCB2 is a computer terminal that gives soldiers access to warfighting information in their vehicles, and the Current Force is the Army’s existing equipment and force structure. The Future Force pertains to the service’s units and formations equipped with FCS.

The first version of FCS will integrate Red Hat Linux. Subsequent FCS releases will include an extended version of LynxOS-178, an open standards version of Linux from LynuxWorks, Simondet said.

The Army will build FCS in four releases, starting in 2008. The service will deploy FCS additions every two years to get FCS systems to soldiers as they are ready. The first fully equipped FCS brigade will be complete in 2014, and the service plans to create 15 brigades that will cost $122 billion to $200 billion.

The FCS network operates current battle command software, including the Army Battle Command System. Raytheon is developing future FCS battle command software. The company has experience in this area because it developed the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, which soldiers in Iraq use to manage fire support.

Raytheon was to complete in March the first software release of 900,000 lines of code for the mission execution portion of the FCS battle command software, said Brian McKeon, vice president of command and control systems at Raytheon’s Network Centric Systems business unit. He spoke during an interview at an Association of the U.S. Army conference in March.

FCS battle command software will allow commanders to plan missions and manage their forces. The mission execution part will let them control systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles, McKeon said.

The most prominent aspect of the FCS network is the communications layer. It consists of JTRS, a device that acts as a computer allowing soldiers to communicate on several frequencies with one radio, and WIN-T, a mobile broadband system that uses ground, air and space systems.

The Pentagon is restructuring JTRS, and the Army is trying to figure out how to transition Joint Network Node to WIN-T. JNN is a commercial, IP-based mobile communications system rapidly deployed to soldiers in Iraq.

Although more mobile, JNN still requires soldiers to stop to send and receive information, and it handles transmissions via a complex circuit of satellites, ground stations and fiber-optic cable. “We want to go up, then down” in the future, Yakovac said.

JNN provides soldiers access to voice, video and data when they stop quickly on the battlefield. JTRS and WIN-T gives them communications while they are moving.

Boeing, which is overseeing development of some of JTRS, delivered seven developmental JTRS Cluster 1 radios early this year to the Army for testing in FCS and will provide more this summer. General Dynamics, which is managing WIN-T, successfully tested a prototype in November.

The FCS network will be available “anywhere in the world, anytime,” Yakovac said. “We want commanders and soldiers to have access to big pipes,” he said.

JTRS, WIN-T and the final FCS network will come together when the Army deploys its first FCS brigade. “This is not like buying a tank,” Yakovac said. “This is hard.”

Until recently, Tiboni was a senior reporter. This article was completed before he left.

Defined: Future Combat Systems

The Army’s Future Combat Systems consist of 18 air and ground vehicles, some manned and some robotic, connected by a fast, secure network. The mobile, ad hoc network is critical to FCS because it will allow the systems and soldiers to fight as one.

The Army believes the all-encompassing FCS network can indirectly provide the munitions and armor in future ground battles that a 70-ton tank does today. It is a big reason why the service is building many of the manned ground systems at 24 tons, the lightest main combat vehicles in Army history.

“We’re talking about developing a capability here that has at least the level of firepower and protection of the M1 battle tank,” said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, the service’s top officer. He spoke to reporters during an FCS demonstration last year at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

The FCS network is an amalgamation of information technology architecture, hardware, software, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical system and intelligence sensors.

The Army breaks the FCS network into four pieces. They are the:

  • System-of-Systems Common Operating Environment.

  • Communications and Computer Systems.

  • Battle Command Software.

  • Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance system.

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