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US Army Faces FCS Shambles

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (pictured) seems to be the only figure in the Pentagon who still remains optimistic about the FCS program's prospects. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Aug 14, 2006
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's cyber-dream for the U.S. Army has become a cyber nightmare. Rumsfeld took office determined to transform the U.S. armed forces into a high-tech, computerized, lean, mean fighting machine that would be invincible.

Instead, the U.S. Army today remains becalmed in Iraq, stuck in the middle of a low intensity guerrilla war it has been unable to tame. And that war is now morphing into a no-holds-barred civil war.

Meanwhile, U.S. military preparedness, retired generals and respected military analysts warn, is now lower than it was in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War -- when Rumsfeld was U.S. defense secretary for the first time.

Rumsfeld wanted the U.S. Army to switch to a state-of-the-art, integrated computer system that could shunt intelligence into the battlefield in real time and allow senior commanders hundreds or thousands of miles away to keep a tight grip on combat operations as they were happening.

Instead, the vaunted Future Combat Systems program is now a shambles.

Unprecedented billions of dollars have been poured into FCS and it has been given top call on Army resources even while U.S. combat troops in Iraq went short of low-tech body armor and steel protection for their combat vehicles.

However, a recent Congressional Budget Office report warns that the FCS program could eat up half the force's annual procurement budget.

The CBO says that the FCS program is on track to eventually eat up between 40 and 50 percent of the Army's procurement accounts, leaving scarce dollars to buy other needed gear, CongressDaily reported Aug. 3.

"Dedicating such a large proportion of the service's procurement funding to the FCS program would leave little money for purchasing other weapons systems (such as helicopters) or needed support equipment (such as generators and ammunition)," the CBO said in the report.

The CBO also projected that the FCS price tag, which already has jumped by billions of dollars in the last few years due to a major program restructuring, could grow by another 60 percent, largely because the program entered the development stage prematurely, CongressDaily said.

"The FCS program may continue to experience cost growths at historical rates," CBO said. "If it does, the average annual funding needed for the program, CBO estimates, may climb from the $8 billion to $10 billion projected most recently by the Army to between $13 billion and $16 billion."

The CBO report is not an isolated warning. Several recent Government Accountability Office studies have also questioned the Army's ability to develop and buy FCS, a system of manned and unmanned vehicles tied together by an extensive high-tech network.

Earlier this summer, the Pentagon's own Cost Analysis Improvement Group estimated the total cost to develop, procure and operate FCS has soared from $175 billion to more than $300 billion since 2003. The Army rejected those estimates as wrong, stating that the total cost will be roughly $230 billion.

On July 21, CongressDaily reported that the FCS program's budget shortfalls could exceed $20 billion annually. Faced with one of its toughest funding challenges in years, top U.S. Army officers are reviewing several options and negotiating tactics, including the possibility of submitting a budget proposal for fiscal 2008 and beyond that exceeds the guidance issued by senior defense officials, CongressDaily said.

The Army is reluctant to cut spending on FCS, something it believes would essentially mortgage the Army's future to pay for its current needs, the newspaper said.

Communications equipment critical to the Army's high tech Future Combat System are lagging and over budget, according to the GAO.

The three systems -- the Joint Tactical Radio System, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment -- are critical to the $120 billion Future Combat System program being a viable replacement to the current generation of tanks and armored vehicles.

But if the FCS fails, the Army's entire combat strategy will be at risk. At Rumsfeld's prodding, the Army has been developing a new generation of tanks that is supposed to be faster and more maneuverable, but will have far less army than many battle tanks of the past quarter century.

That idea has already been thrown into doubt by the devastating effectiveness of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs in Iraq. Over the past year-and-a-half, they have been the biggest killer of U.S. soldiers in the war there.

But if the FCS fails, the new generation tanks will be at a devastating disadvantage on conventional battlefields too. The FCS was supposed to give U.S. land combat formations an overwhelming advantage in action. However, each of the three communications systems that the FCS relies upon now has significant problems.

The Joint Tactical Radio System's first iteration is supposed to be able to transmit at least 6 miles, but has a range of only 1.8 miles. Moreover, it does not meet security requirements, CongressDaily reported last year.

The Pentagon directed the cancellation of Boeing's nearly $500 million contract to develop and build the radios in April 2005; if left unchecked the cost was expected to rise to nearly $900 million.

Second, The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, a mobile internet and cellular communications network being developed to support a large, dispersed battlefield, was supposed to begin production in March 2006. However, according to GAO, needed technologies for that equipment to function will not be available until 2009.

Third, the System of Systems Common Operating Environment -- the operating software to integrate the Future Combat System communications network -- is also showing signs of being behind schedule, according to GAO.

Rumsfeld seems to be the only figure in the Pentagon who still remains optimistic about the FCS program's prospects. Recent experiences in Iraq have taught senior U.S. Army planners not to trust in optimism.

Source: United Press International

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