The US Department of Defense formally ended the US Army's Future Combat System (FCS) modernization effort yesterday. In a memorandum signed by theUnder Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter, the Army has now been directed:
"to transition to a modernization plan consisting of a number of separate but integrated acquisition programs ... Those integrated programs include one to spin out the initial increment of the FCS program to seven infantry brigades in the near term and additional programs for information and communications networks, unmanned ground and air vehicles and sensors, and an integration effort aimed at follow-on spinouts to all Army brigades."
The FCS program started in 2003 with an Army estimated cost of $92 billion which then grew to an Army estimated $160 billion in 2006. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others had put the costs more at between $200 billion and $300 billion. To date, the Army has spent about $18 billion in FCS research and development, which it hopes to utilize in its new Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization effort.
There have also been on-going problems with developing the software needed to support the various FCS platforms. I wrote last year about the problems with the software development within FCS in the Risk Factor here and here. When first proposed, FCS was supposed to contain 33.7 million lines of code; by the end of 2007 it had grown to 63.8 million. This year the GAO said it had climbed again to 114 million.
Though the Army insisted from the beginning that the risk of the program was manageable, former chief of staff of the Army General Peter Schoomakeradmitted after the contract was let in 2003 that the FCS program had only a 28 percent chance of success. Even optimistic estimates by Schoomaker never placed it above 70 percent.
"specific concern that the portion of the FCS program to field new manned combat vehicles did not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was further troubled by the terms of the current single contract covering the whole FCS effort."
Secretary Gates announced his desire to terminate the FCS program in April.
Hopefully, the Army will learn some hard lessons from this episode. from the beginning FCS was too complex and too expensive . However, given that as late as March of this year the Army leadership was insisting that the program was "executed well," there is much room for doubt.
You can read more about defense systems acquisition in IEEE Spectrum's November 2008 article "What's Wrong With Weapons Acquisition?"
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.