GAO: Future Combat Systems network still more concept than reality

The number of lines of software code the Army needs to develop for its Future Combat Systems program has tripled to 95.1 million lines since 2003, and "it is not yet clear if or when the information network, which is at the heart of the FCS concept, can be developed, built and demonstrated," the Government Accountability Office reported on Monday.

The Army tapped Boeing Co. and SAIC in 2002 as lead systems integrators to develop FCS, an ambitious project estimated to cost anywhere from $164 billion to more than $230 billion. The project's aim is to link manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles, sensor systems and military commanders in a complex network designed to allow soldiers to see and hit the enemy first, rather than relying on heavy armor to withstand attack.

That involves writing software and implementing technology to link the people, platforms, weapons and sensors together. The basic FCS Brigade Combat Team network will stitch together 5,000 nodes on more than 1,500 radios supporting multiple subnetworks connected by gateways with 3 million information exchange requirements. But GAO noted in the report GAO-08-409 that to date the Army and its contractors have only demonstrated basic network concepts, such as connections and exchange of information between a limited number of network nodes.

The Army is still stabilizing its requirements and hardware and software designs have not matured, GAO reported. The first major demonstration of the FCS network will take place in fiscal 2012, about a year before the Army plans to start low-rate initial production of FCS hardware, such as infantry and reconnaissance vehicles, cannons, mortars, and robotic air and ground vehicles.

Congress, in the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization measure, said it would not approve production of such hardware until the completion of a successful network test.

The Army told GAO that the sharp increase in the lines of code needed to run FCS systems stems from an underestimation of the amount of operating system software required. The report found that the Army, Boeing and SAIC contributed to code growth with "inaccurate software sizing estimates," and noted that the Institute for Defense Analyses has estimated that the growth in code will add $3 billion to the overall FCS development cost.

Lack of stable development requirements also contributed to an increase in the amount of code required, GAO said, reporting that four out of five of the FCS software developers it met with (out of a total of 14) reported that problems with requirements have resulted in functionality being deferred to future versions.

"Deferring work into the future means that the associated software code writing and testing will take place later than planned, meaning that more code will be written later and the associated functionality will not be testable until later," the report stated.

This, GAO said, "indicates that less functionality than planned has been delivered and that software estimates will only grow larger in future builds."

The basic architecture of the FCS network also could frustrate Army efforts to develop the battlefield networks at the core of the system, the GAO report said. Unlike commercial wireless systems in which every node is connected to the Internet by a single link, in FCS, most network nodes will not have direct access to the network.

Instead, each radio must act as a router, meaning it will pass voice, video and data traffic from its subscribers as well as other radios and their subscribers. This, GAO said, could lead to a situation in which all fixed capacity on the network is consumed for routing traffic between radios and nodes, and there is no capacity to transmit information.

The magnitude, size and complexity and of the network and software development required for FCS are "unprecedented" in the history of the Defense Department, GAO said. "Because the performance of the network and the success of the software effort are not assured," the report said, "decision-makers should allow for the possibility that full success will not be achieved…. it will be wise to keep alternative courses of action viable to guard against such an eventuality."

John Pike, a defense analyst and director of GlobalSecurity.org, said that the Army should restructure FCS, backing away from a grand plan of developing everything at once and taking an incremental approach. Pike said the Army also might need to scale back the scope of FCS to focus on what it needs rather than what it desires.

Philip Coyle, senior adviser with the Center for Defense Information, a security policy research organization in Washington, agreed, and said developing FCS piecemeal would be a better approach. Coyle also faulted the Army for outsourcing responsibility for FCS to Boeing and SAIC, saying "this does not put the Army in the position of a good customer."

Pike said FCS is yet another example of "the lead system integrator concept being oversold." But, he added, Defense cannot hold onto people with the capability to oversee projects such as FCS "when they can make more money in the private sector."

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