The U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems program, now heading into its development
and demonstration phase, will see increased Pentagon oversight, not only as
a result of its multibillion-dollar price tag, but also because of the program’s
lack of clear definition, said Army officials.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review FCS every year during the
next five years, when the program reaches Milestone C and low-rate initial production,
said Col. Russell Hrdy, the program manager for FCS lethality. The Army expects
to have FCS initial operating capability by 2010.
The Pentagon’s tight grip on the program review will influence FCS budgets
to a great extent, said Hrdy. According to him, “price increases with
oversight.” The Army got approval in May to budget nearly $15 billion
for FCS, as the program enters the system development and demonstration phase,
or Milestone B.
The FCS program—a family of combat vehicles and robotic systems linked
by a computer network—does not have the clarity that other traditional
Army programs have had.
“There are several key performance parameters that are undefined,”
Hrdy said at a National Defense Industrial Association armaments conference.
“There are technologies that are below the expected readiness level. The
schedule is very aggressive and there is a disagreement with OSD on cost benefits.”
In this program, Hrdy said, “We are not defining a vehicle; we are not
defining a manned-ground vehicle, or a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], or a radio.
We are defining a capability.”
Milestone B was “the most complex thing that OSD had ever seen come across
its table to decide,” said Marilyn Freeman, deputy director for Armament,
Vehicle and Soldier Technologies at Army headquarters.
Speaking at the armaments conference, she noted that OSD officials in many
cases did not understand the Army’s vision and what it wanted to achieve.
During the Milestone B certification process, “we were still getting
indications that the secretary was upset, and many of the leadership did not
understand our mission,” she said. “They just didn’t get it.
They knew there was something there. They knew they wanted it to succeed. They
just didn’t know what it was about.”
The FCS has tested the Army’s ability to break away from its traditional
procurement practices, said Freeman. The service took “a very complex
system of systems and convinced OSD that we are going to go ahead with this,
[that] it is worth spending the money ... and [that they should] trust us that
we are going to deliver,” she said.
One of OSD’s biggest concerns was, and still is, the technology readiness
level of the proposed systems. During the Milestone B certification process,
OSD officials primarily questioned whether the FCS concept will ever work in
an operational setting and whether the heavy reliance on computer networking
will make the system vulnerable, Freeman recounted.
Pentagon officials allowed FCS to enter the SDD phase, even though the technology
was less mature than typically is required, said Freeman. For most programs,
that means having working prototypes. “Needless to say, we marched into
this [Milestone B] with none of these things, we did not have prototypes. And
yet we were trying to convince them that we should go ahead with this.”
Freeman said the Army identified 31 critical technologies, encompassing areas
such as network security, wide-band waveforms, precision munitions, manned/unmanned
collaborations and counter-mine capabilities. The 31 technologies will need
to mature to a TRL level 6 to meet the FCS requirements.
TRL level 6 means the technology was demonstrated in a relevant environment,
Freeman explained. “It doesn’t mean it is integrated or you have
done all the work you need to do,” she said.
Some of the technologies must be transferred from other programs throughout
the Army and made compatible with the FCS, said Freeman. “There will be
technology transition agreements that have to be made,” she added. The
program will evolve in phases, called spirals. “We are making it up as
we go along, because we have not done this before.”
Some of the technologies needed for FCS, Hrdy said, “are not ready today
and so by assessment, this program really has to embrace an evolutionary approach
to acquisitions, an incremental approach to acquisitions.”
With just six and a half years to get FCS out in the field, the Army needs
to accelerate high payoff, core Army technologies, Freeman said.
While technology is being developed, the Army also has to make sure that systems
can be manufactured at an affordable cost, according to Freeman. “None
of this is going to happen if it is so expensive to manufacture that it becomes
impossible for the Army to fund.”
As the Army struggles with some far-fetched concepts at times, the service
needs to make sure that it keeps clear-cut goals. “Clarity is what we
get if we work through the concept stage down through making it a reality in
all the programs that we have,” she explained. “If you miss this
opportunity, we are not going to see another one like it for another 10 years,”
The “absolute essential piece” of FCS is a secure and robust communications
network, Freeman said. Fire support needs to tie into that network to ensure
lethality. The Army and its lead systems integrator—the Boeing and SAIC
team—have just started working on the lethality aspect of the program,
said Bud Irish, the SAIC LSI representative.
“Lethality is something important for us to continue to fund,”
Freeman said. The FCS has $1.7 billion through fiscal year 2009 to work on lethality.
“Near term, we are working on precision munitions, guns, missiles and
direct energy,” she said. “Each one of these has a place,”
Freeman said. “We just have to find the place and we have to move the
technology along. Precision fires can be very important regardless of the type
Compatibility among weapons systems will prove to be a challenge, she cautioned.
“One of the concerns that everyone has is that there are all these things
going on, weapons systems that have to coordinate with each other,” she
Forward-looking concepts, such as unattended sensors being dropped from helicopters
that can then send real-time video to the shooters to launch missiles, can also
complicate the network. According to Irish, the LSI is looking at PAM (precision
attack missile) and LAM (loitering attack missile), and trying to determine
the benefit of loitering munitions over unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We are going to need all types of weapons,” said Freeman. “The
question is what is the right weapon for today? It’s not all guns. It’s
not all missiles. It’s a mix.”
The Army is interested in directed energy weapons, such as high-powered micro-waves
and lasers, but that will require upgraded power systems.
For fiscal years 2004-09, the Army has poured $600 million toward vehicle and
soldier-systems power, said Freeman. There are initiatives in hybrid electric
vehicles and some all-electric vehicles to maximize fuel efficiency and silent
mobility. “I believe that hybrid-electric is going to be a very important
part of our vehicle fleet.”
While silent mobility would allow soldiers to approach their targets unnoticed,
the Army has to figure out how the systems can stay survivable as they get closer
and closer to the action. One solution, Freeman said, is through an “active
protection sequence.” It basically means that when a vehicle gets shot
at, “you anticipate the incoming round.”
However, she pointed out that physics “does not allow us to make a lightweight
vehicles as impenetrable as a heavy-weight vehicle.” In order to get survivability,
“we have to use all sensors and the network, our mobility, our active
protection systems,” she said.
Power and energy technologies could help reduce the weight that soldiers must
carry. FCS is looking at 1.5 pound fuel cells, a 1 pound rechargeable battery
belt and a 1.5 pound methanol canister. “We want to try to get them to
carry 50 instead of 100 pounds of extra weight,” Freeman said.
The technology developers for unmanned ground systems have to work on perception,
which is software driven; on the platforms and their characteristics; situational
behavior and soldier interface, Freeman said.
For the unmanned aerial vehicles the question becomes what is the right mix,
said Maj. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, the program executive officer for Army ground
combat systems. “There is robust funding in the technology base and in
SDD dollars to continue to develop and integrate UAVs in the battle space,”
he told National Defense.
“We have Class 1-4 in the requirements,” he said. Class 1 will
be a platoon-class small aircraft. Class 2 will operate at the company level,
class 3 will be attached to the battalion and class 4 to the brigade commander.
“The problem is that some of those classes are not far enough in technology,”
said Yakovac. “When you combine the UAV with the sensor, there is a mismatch
right now. For example, I can provide a class 2 UAV but when I marry it up with
the sensor, the sensor package the user wants may be too heavy for that vehicle.”
For the first FCS brigade (called a unit of action), Yakovac said he does not
expect to have all four classes of UAVs. “It’s not because of funding,
but matching the bird with the sensor,” he said.
Each FCS brigade would have 36 class-1, 36 class-2, 12 class-3 and 16 class-4
Meanwhile, the FCS manned ground vehicle plan is for a family of eight variants
based on a common chassis. These vehicles all must be transportable by C-130
military air cargo plan without any waiver restriction (except the Non-Line
of Sight, Beyond Line of Sight and mortar vehicle, which are expected to exceed
the nominal 16 short ton weight).
This limits the combat-ready weight of each vehicle. Each vehicle is distinct
when equipped and assembled with a unique mission module system consisting of
a combination of carrier and/or ordnance systems.
The Army and vehicle manufacturers General Dynamics and United Defense team
have assessed the risks, said Hrdy.
The manned ground vehicle (MGV) program is synchronized with the FCS overall
plan, he noted. The cannon (NLOS-C) is being designed by United Defense. General
Dynamics is developing the line-of-sight platform.
The lethality suites for each MGV variant have been defined, while the architecture
for all common and variant subsystems have been developed, said Hrdy. Initial
weight, volume, power, cooling and reliability allocations have also been established.
However, the MGV already faces some constraints. One of them is C-130 transportability.
This would require both design and requirements adjustments, said Hrdy. Another
challenge is posed by the ambitious systems-integration requirements.
Back To Top