Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Army's $200 Billion Reboot Fizzles; Murtha Wants $20 Billion More

Army's $200 Billion Reboot Fizzles; Murtha Wants $20 Billion More

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The Army's gargantuan digital modernization plan has turned so rotten, a new congressional report says it's time to start thinking about killing off the effort, and looking for new alternatives. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania), the powerful head of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, has another plan: Pump another $20 billion into the sickly, $200 billion behemoth "Future Combat Systems" before it drops dead under its own weight.

Future Combat Systems, or FCS, is the Army's effort to use software and computer networks to turn itself into a quicker, lighter, more-lethal force by 2017. The vision is for fleets of new armored vehicles, ground robots and flying drones to be linked together by a wireless internet for combat, and by a common operating system. But FCS has been in trouble, almost since the day it began, with slipped deadlines, bloated budgets, unproven technologies and unrealistic expectations.

The picture may be even more bleak than has been previously been understood, however. A soon-to-be-released
Government Accountability Office report, first obtained by Inside the Army, notes that FCS' core software programs are now slated to take up 95 million lines of code, nearly triple the original estimate. Only two of Future Combat Systems' 44 key technologies are where they should have been -- at the beginning of the program. Things are so bad that the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, is now recommending that the Pentagon start “identify[ing] viable alternatives to FCS." That's government-speak for chopping the program into bits, and starting over again. And the Department of Defense "concur[s] with [those] recommendations," according to the study.

The GAO report shows that “there is no way they stay on schedule without major reductions... due to lagging key technologies and the program’s wildly optimistic integration assumptions, which are based on faith, not reality,” a congressional source tells
Inside the Army.

But while the GAO, congress' investigative arm, is warning of Future Combat Systems' possible demise, Murtha is looking to speed the program up -- and give it an extra $20 billion.


Murtha is also worried about FCS' long-term health. And he's concerned that, by the time 2017 rolls around, the country won't have the stomach to pay for all the networked vehicles that are at the heart of the program. "[The Army] is doing it so slowly that they never get there," he said last month. "I mean, they have no plan. I said you've got to take some risks, you've got to cut some stuff out."

So Murtha is trying to work out a deal with the Army. The service “must complete FCS in 4-5 years,” according to a memo obtained by Inside the Army. And Murtha is “willing to find $20 billion this year for FCS if we can accelerate” the program. “Chairman Murtha mentioned several times that he has $300 billion to 'play with,'” the memo adds. The Army is now working on plans that would take Murtha's offer into account.

At $200 billion, Future Combat Systems is already the biggest modernization program in the history of the Army -- enough, approximately, to buy 200,000 of the new, heavily-armored vehicles bound for Iraq (more than 20 times the number slated to go); 1,000 of the Air Force's latest, most expensive stealth fighter (about 50 times more than planned); or 25 next-generation aircraft carriers, (more than double the current fleet).

It's unclear how much an extra $20 billion cash would really help the program. FCS is in the middle of five "builds" for the software that will tie together all of the thousands of new vehicles and drones in the program. When FCS got underway in 2003, the Army "projected that about 32 million lines of code would be needed," according to the report. "Later, that estimate was increased to about 63 million lines of code. As the Army continues to define FCS hardware and software subsystem requirements, a new estimate puts the total volume of software at about 95 million lines of code." In comparison, the new Microsoft operating system, Vista, takes up about 50 million lines of code. The Joint Strike Fighter's software -- the biggest in the history of the Defense Dpeartment -- is 19 million lines long. The project is so big, the GAO now says that “it is not yet clear if or when the information network that is at the heart of the FCS concept can be developed, built, and demonstrated by the Army."

But FCS' problems go much farther than software. "Almost 5 years and $12 billion into development, FCS’ critical technologies remain at low maturity levels. According to the Army’s latest technology assessment, only two of FCS’ 44 critical technologies have reached a level of maturity that based on best practice standards should have been demonstrated at program start," the report says.

Even FCS gear touted by the Army as being nearly-ready-for-prime-time is still shaky. Take, for example, the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon, a new, hybrid-electric-powered artillery platform, designed to fire a satellite-guided munition. Eight prototypes are supposed to be delivered at the end of this year. Alas, "the round may not be entirely compatible with the proposed NLOS-C design."

Or check out the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System -- a new, networked missile launcher, designed to nail moving targets with satellite-guided munitions. The Washington Post calls it "A box of rockets that can automatically change direction in midair and hit a moving target about 24 miles away."

The system is part of an array of FCS technologies that's currently undergoing trials for possible early deployment to troops in the field. (Small robots and ground sensors are some of the others.) One problem: The system has flunked its last few flight tests, even though those tests were dumbed down -- no seeker, no warhead.

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