Difficulties in developing key technologies threaten to derail U.S. Army efforts to develop its next-generation network-centric weapon and communication systems. The report
, produced by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), concludes that the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, as currently structured, may not deliver the first capabilities sets scheduled for fiscal year 2008.
The FCS consists of mobile weapon and sensor platforms linked in a robust information-sharing network. Several core communications and data transmission technologies include the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T) and the System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE). The GAO finds that these complex systems rely on interrelated technologies that are, in many cases, not mature enough to integrate into the FCS without risk.
The Army restructured the FCS program in 2004, and it plans to test and field capabilities incrementally between 2008 and 2014 in four spirals. However, the tight operational schedule and experimental nature of the technologies has led to delays in the program’s key communications and data components.
JTRS is envisioned as a family of fully interoperable radios that transmit video, data and voice communications. The effort is divided into separate programs or clusters, the two most important to the FCS program being Cluster 1, which is developing radios for ground vehicles and helicopters, and Cluster 5, which is developing miniaturized handheld radios and remote sensors.
JTRS Cluster 1 was launched with an aggressive schedule, but immature technologies and a lack of firm requirements hampered the effort. The report notes that when Cluster 1 began its system development and demonstration phase, none of its 20 critical technologies were mature nor its requirements fully defined. As a result, the report finds that the prototype version of the radio is not sufficient to meet FCS program needs. “As currently designed, the radio will have a transmission range of only 3 kilometers—well short of the required 10 kilometers—and will not meet security requirements for operating in a networked environment,” the report states.
Efforts to mature and integrate key technologies have led to cost and scheduling overruns. A recent U.S. Defense Department program review determined that JTRS Cluster 1 could not reach a successful conclusion based on its current structure. This finding caused the Army to stop Cluster 1 work and to consider project termination. A Defense Acquisition Board review will determine the future of the JTRS Cluster 1 program at the end of fiscal year 2005. If the Army resumes the program, the GAO report states, the work stoppage makes it unlikely that Cluster 1 radios will be available for the first FCS network spiral in 2008.
Requirements for JTRS Cluster 5 radios are more stringent than those for Cluster 1. Cluster 5 is developing sophisticated multi-channel, high-bandwidth handheld radios and datalinks for unattended sensors. Their small size, weight and power needs pose considerable technical challenges. The report notes that the smallest of these radios weighs only about 1 pound, compared to 84 pounds for a Cluster 1 unit.
The handheld radios also are required to store and operate the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW), designed to provide high-bandwidth information sharing between mobile forces. But the full waveform requires large amounts of memory and processing power, which Cluster 5 radios may not be able to provide. The report indicates that the Cluster 5 program is seeking to ease the waveform requirements to reduce the power demands of the software.
Cluster 5 development was delayed by changes within the program and a contract award bid protest that put it out of synchronization with the FCS program. Because of technical issues encountered with Cluster 1, the Army is considering options for restructuring JTRS Cluster 5 to meet the goals of the FCS program.
WIN-T, which is designed to provide a wide area communications backbone interfacing with JTRS radios, also faces concerns about immature technologies. The system is scheduled to begin production in March 2006, but the GAO points out that “the compressed schedule assumes nearly flawless execution and does not allow sufficient time for correcting problems.”
Like JTRS, WIN-T relies on highly interdependent technologies to operate at full capacity. A lag in the development of any of its applications may result in a delay for the entire effort. The WIN-T program was ordered to accelerate the delivery of networking and communications capabilities to meet near-term military needs and to coordinate with the restructured FCS effort. But the Army has not yet determined a plan for WIN-T to meet near-term warfighting needs and to synchronize with the FCS, the report says.
SOSCOE will reside on each FCS platform computer system and will provide the operating software for the network. It is the foundation on which much of the FCS will be built. But the GAO notes that it may not be mature enough to meet program milestones. The report finds that high-level FCS requirements are still evolving and have not been translated into detailed specifications needed to write the SOSCOE software, potentially leading to additional delays as the specifications are rewritten to meet new requirements.
Based on its findings, the GAO report recommends that the Defense Department:
· Establish low-risk schedules for demonstrating JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE capabilities;
· Synchronize the FCS spiral schedule with schedules for JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE; and
· Develop an operational test and evaluation strategy that supports an evaluation of network maturity as part of FCS spiral production decisions.
The report also suggests that the department assess whether greater priority should be placed on demonstrating the WNW on a prototype JTRS radio over other Cluster 1 capabilities for the remainder of the cluster’s development program.
In its comments on the report, the Defense Department agrees with the need to establish low-risk schedules to demonstrate JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE capabilities, noting that the Army is overseeing and evaluating these programs to ensure that costs, schedules and performance remain under control.
The department partially concurs with the report’s second recommendation to synchronize the FCS spirals with the fielding schedules of JTRS, WIN-T and SOSCOE. However, it states that “the Army’s strategy for spiraling out FCS technology is not constrained to any one particular element of the program.” The official response notes that this strategy seeks to provide mature systems capabilities in increments and leverage opportunities to integrate them into the current force.
The Defense Department also agrees with the need to develop an operational test and evaluation strategy, and concurs that greater emphasis must be placed on demonstrating the WNW. It notes that the newly established JTRS Joint Program Executive Office is assessing JTRS Cluster 1’s development path and evaluating the WNW.