Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Future Combat System Design Review

The US Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program last week passed its System of Systems Functional Review, signaling that it is ready to enter its preliminary design phase. This program is notable not only that it will the US Army's land combat forces for much of this century, but that it did not specify detailed platform requirements. Rather, it is a set of capabilities that is to be met with an array of vehicle and weapon types to be determined.

eDefense Online's Brendan P. Rivers reports on the latest FCS design review, which does set the stage for producing actual weapons systems:

The System of Systems Functional Review was the most extensive assessment of the program so far, said Brigadier General Charles Cartwright, the Army's FCS program manager, and included participation by the US Department of Defense, the Army, and the FCS lead-system-integrator (LSI) team of Boeing (St. Louis, MO) and Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) (San Diego, CA). The review, which looked at FCS requirements at the Unit of Action level, spanned five days and consisted of a series of about 40 briefings conducted at 24 government and industry sites across the US. More than 11,000 engineering requirements were examined, and all 202 of the review's specific closure criteria were met.

The first spin-outs - the Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) Cannon, intelligent munitions, network elements, and unattended ground sensors, according to current plans -- will be provided to an experimental Unit of Action in FY08 for assessment, with fielding slated for FY10. In addition, starting in FY06, BGEN Cartwright said, the Army will procure six Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are already in test flights with the US Navy and were chosen as to fill the FCS program's requirement for a Class IV UAV (see
Fire Scout Chosen as US Army FCS TUAV), and an early build of the NLOS Cannon will begin. Indeed, a prototype of the NLOS Cannon has already conducted test firings at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The general also cited other successes on the program thus far, including more than 200 flights of the Micro Air Vehicle (MAV), a leading candidate for the FCS program's Class I UAV requirement (see
US Army Testing Micro Air Vehicles), test firings of the Lightweight Line-of-Sight Cannon at the Army Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He also noted that the mortar for the NLOS-Mortar (NLOS-M) vehicle has just begun test firings, as has the 30mm cannon for the FCS Infantry Fighting Vehicle. In addition, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV), the first-generation PackBot system, is "already running around in Afghanistan right now," he said. Active protection systems for the vehicles are also being tested, with a request for proposals for the provision of such systems under the FCS program expected very soon. The general said that these active protection systems could become part of the first wave of spin-outs as well, for which the Joint Forces Exercise (JFEX) in 2006 will provide the first look.

BGEN Cartwright also noted that, since the restructuring of the FCS program (see
US Army Restructures FCS Program), there have been no cost or schedule changes.
But for all of these successes to date, however, BGEN Cartwright said there still remains much more to be done. For instance, the Class II and III UAVs must still be downselected and go through fly-offs prior to a final selection. Also, there is still a lot of development and testing of the FCS network to be done - at least three-years worth. The general said that his office is working closely with the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program office (San Diego, CA) and will do the same with the Warfighter Information Network - Tactical (WIN-T) program office, as both of these systems will be critical to the FCS command-and-control and communications backbone. Muilenberg noted that the FCS program has also realigned somewhat with the recent changes to the JTRS program, specifically, Clusters 1 and 5, in order to keep the FCS program on track. In the December-January timeframe, the FCS program will receive its first batch of Cluster 1 radios for the development of the network, and even prior to that, in September of this year, Cluster 5 nodes will undergo command-and-control testing at Ft. Dix, NJ.

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