Report reveals trouble with new Army combat systems

A new Pentagon report has cast doubt on the Army's ability to meet its schedule for equipping a combat brigade in fiscal 2011 with several technologies salvaged from the canceled Future Combat Systems program.

The report was compiled by the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation and sent recently to Capitol Hill. It reveals that all of the technologies struggled through a recent round of testing and will require significantly more work before the Army can send them to a combat unit.

"Based upon analyses of the results from the LUT [limited user test] and development testing, DOT&E's current assessment of the ... systems is that none have demonstrated an adequate level of performance to be fielded to units and employed in combat," according to a copy of the report obtained by CongressDaily. "All of the systems require further development in order to meet threshold user requirements."

In one case, testing of a small, unmanned aerial vehicle revealed that the aircraft, built by Arizona-based Honeywell Aerospace, can be seen four kilometers away and heard two kilometers away, making it a poor platform for stealthy reconnaissance and surveillance work.

The "reliability and durability of the aircraft continues to be poor," the report said.

The systems, for which Congress approved $2.3 billion this fiscal year, include a network integration kit; small, unmanned ground and aerial vehicles; unattended ground sensors; and a vehicle-mounted missile launch system that Army leaders hope to deploy quickly to modernize its combat brigades.

Despite the inadequate test results, the report does not call on the Army to delay fielding the technologies, but rather urges the service to take steps to improve their reliability.

The Army, meanwhile, says it has incorporated lessons learned from the tests, conducted in August and September at Fort Bliss, Texas, and is making necessary fixes as it continues testing and begins limited production of the systems this year.

The service still plans to meet its goal of fielding the first set of equipment to a combat brigade in fiscal 2011, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The spokesman explained that the program has taken a "test-fix-test" approach, with an emphasis on beginning the testing process early and learning from soldiers' experiences with the equipment.

Among its findings, the report determined that unattended ground sensors produced by Textron Defense Systems do not meet the Army's reliability requirements - a fact that could adversely affect operational effectiveness and increase life-cycle costs.

Meanwhile, program officials for the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System, a product of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., have made some progress correcting problems with the program, according to the report.

But the program, the report warns, "cannot be fully assessed" until an upcoming missile flight test, which had been postponed because of earlier problems.

Issues with the systems have resonated within the highest levels of the Pentagon, where senior officials are watching the Army's management of the program closely.

In a memo last month giving the Army the go-ahead to begin limited production of the systems, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter acknowledged that user testing has identified "large reliability shortfalls." Carter added he is "cognizant of the risks of this program."

Carter said he approved the systems for production because he is "aware of the importance of fielding integrated networked systems to the current warfighter." But he placed limits on funding and directed the Army to issue monthly reports on the progress it is making on the systems.

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