Issues Facing the Army's Future Combat Systems Program

GAO-03-1010R: Published: Aug 13, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 13, 2003.

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Paul L. Francis
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Under its transformation efforts, the Army plans to change the way it organizes, trains, deploys, and equips its forces. It expects the future force to be organized around brigade-size units that perform virtually all Army combat functions. The Army wants to fully equip these units with the Future Combat Systems (FCS), a family of 18 networked, warfighting systems which are intended to be more lethal, survivable, deployable, and sustainable than existing heavy combat systems. In order to deploy faster, the FCS vehicles are expected to be a fraction of the weight of existing heavy armored fighting vehicles. The Army believes that nontraditional fighting tactics coupled with an extensive information network will compensate for the loss of size and armor mass by utilizing information superiority and synchronized operations to see, engage, and destroy the enemy before the enemy detects the future forces. The Army has allocated about $22 billion for the FCS program during fiscal years 2004 through 2009 and several billions more for non-FCS programs that the FCS will need to become fully capable. In addition, the Army recently implemented FCS schedule changes, which added about 2 years to the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase.

The FCS program has several progressive features, but also faces a number of challenges. The FCS concept shows that the Army leadership is thinking innovatively to arrive at the best ways to prepare for future Army operations. For example, Army leaders decided to include interoperability with other systems in the FCS design and design the individual FCS systems to work as part of a networked system-of-systems. These features represent an improvement over the past approach of developing individual systems first and then attempting to integrate them later, an approach that could lead to schedule and cost growth. The system-of-systems approach also allows program managers more flexibility to make trade-offs among the individual systems. Collectively, the system-of-systems could still provide an effective combat capability even if some of the individual system capabilities are lost or degraded. In addition, the Army has adopted best practice tools to measure the progress of technology development. For example, it is employing technology readiness levels to measure the maturity of technologies being considered for FCS components. The acquisition strategy for the FCS is aggressive, particularly in light of the program's vast scope. The SDD phase began with more risk present than recommended by best practices or Department of Defense (DOD) guidance. For example, many critical technologies were significantly immature and will require further development at the same time as product development is conducted. This concurrent development increases the risk of cost growth and schedule delays. Since FCS will dominate the Army's investment accounts over the next decade, any cost growth and schedule delays could affect the entire Army. Even with the recent extension of SDD by about 2 years, the FCS strategy calls for developing multiple systems and a network in less time than DOD typically needs to develop a single advanced system. In addition, a favorable decision to begin SDD on a system-of-systems like FCS poses challenges for the acquisition process such as defining and evaluating requirements, analyzing alternatives, estimating and tracking costs, conducting test and evaluation, and conducting oversight.

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