Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Future Combat System in Jeopardy

As part of the push towards contract reform, budget analysis, and the admission that the current defense budgets are unsustainable by Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (here and here), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) came out with a report recently that puts the Future Combat System (FCS) in serious trouble (GAO-05-428T).

Bloomberg.com, March 11, 2009:

…The program has “spent about 60 percent of its development funds, even though the most expensive activities remain to be done before the production decision,” the GAO said in a draft report to be published tomorrow. Boeing responded today by saying the company is executing the program “to the Army’s plan.”

Boeing leads a team including Science Applications International Corp. managing the Future Combat Systems, a program that will feature manned and unmanned vehicles, drones and radio networks. The program is the Pentagon’s second most expensive and faces White House and Defense Department scrutiny as the Obama administration seeks cuts in the defense budget to rein in government spending.

“All critical technologies are not currently at a minimum acceptable level of maturity,” the GAO said. The current acquisition plan is “unlikely to be executed” within the $159 billion budget, it said.

The program uses 44 “critical technologies,” the GAO said in the draft report. Only three could be considered “finished products” tested in a “realistic environment” while about 37 technologies were still at a prototype stage. The remainder haven’t advanced to that early stage…

As expected, Boeing had a different opinion:

…Boeing offered a different assessment. Thirty five of 44 critical technologies are now at the required maturity level, according to an independent Army assessment, Boeing Combat Systems spokesman John Morrocco said today in an e-mail. The remainder are on track to reach that level by summer, he wrote.

“More than five years into development, we continue to execute the FCS program to the Army’s plan,” Morrocco wrote…

The Army, defending its management of the FCS, also weighed in:

…Army spokesman Paul Mehney said he couldn’t comment directly on the report until it is released and disputed the GAO’s contention that the technology is not mature enough. The Army considered the technology advanced enough to begin soldier tests at Fort Bliss, Texas, that have proven successful, he said.

The first 10 individual systems have completed preliminary design reviews that are leading to a major “system of systems” review in May and a Pentagon Defense Acquisition Board meeting in July, which is necessary to proceed with development, he said…

So now that the report is released, what is the result? The GAO has called for major improvements to the program, such as ensuring technological maturity is achieved, real-world testing instead of continued computer simulation (the equivalent of live-fire testing), and recommendations to rein in costs for a program that is in serious risk of delivering anything close to the planned capability.

The report paints a very disturbing picture of a program that has come to the point of asking if the FCS is doable, and is FCS worth it. I believe the jury is still out.

However, even more troubling is that regardless of the posturing by Boeing and the Army to justify the program and defend their actions against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Army answers GAO’s concerns by concurring with every single recommendation for improving the program. (GAO-09-288)

In the DoD’s response dated March 3, 2009 , David J. Ahern, Director, Portfolio Systems Acquisition, wrote:

…The report recommends that the Secretary of Defense ensure the FCS program conforms to current defense acquisition policy, direct the Army to convene a Configuration Steering Board, ensure any increments of FCS capability are justifiable on their own, ensure any systems going to the current forces have been successfully tested, and reassess the involvement of the FCS contractor in production.

The Department concurs with the GAO recommendations are our comments are enclosed

We have come to a point where we cannot procure everything we want, and must prioritize our defense acquisitions by reassessing need and strategy, and making tough decisions that are in the best interest to taxpayer and ensuring the true needs of the warfighter are addressed. I think the FCS, along with other large programs that have been targeted for review, really need to be thoroughly analyzed for the ability to fix them, or possibly terminate them.

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