The US Army’s $120+ billion Future Combat Systems program has been subject to a great deal of criticism over its history. It was always planned as a development process with staged spinoffs, but a combination of pressure on the program and the field needs of the troops on the front lines is pushing that schedule. As FCS hits the 2 1/2 year mark in its System Design and Development (SDD) phase, there are plans to start delivering some of its elements beginning in 2006, for fielding and then upgrading as the program continues.
According to eDefense Online, the spinouts will occur progressively but can be broadly grouped into four main waves for timing purposes:
eDefense reports that the first spin-outs will include the NLOS-LS NETFIRES “missiles in a box” system, other intelligent munitions, unattended ground sensors, and some new networking capabilities. DID would add that elements of the stalled JTRS program were originally slated for early spinout, but that now looks unlikely.
The second wave will include active vehicle protection systems and UAVs from among the four classes in the program – the Class I platoon-level MAV and Class IV brigade-level MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV being the most probable.
The third wave is slated to include ground robots to complement MTRS small unmanned ground vehicles and other UGVs already in service under other programs (DID’s coverage of the Gladiator UGV describes a third wave example).
The fourth wave will include the major ground vehicles from artillery and mortar carriers to IFVs. Given Congressional pressure to spin the NLOS-C self-propelled howitzer out into its own program, however, DID sees a possibility that it may arrive in an earlier wave.
eDefense also reports that embedded training, wherein training software etc. is built into the systems themselves, has become an important aspect of the FCS program. The Israelis in particular have made use of this approach before, and the USA is now following suit on a broader level.
Meanwhile, for more detailed look into other FCS-related spinoffs from TARDEC, Army AL&T (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) Magazine has a November-December 2005 article titled “Spinning Out Future Force Technologies to Warfighters Today” [PDF]. It covers advances in vehicle protection, hybrid power systems, and new logistics-related features like water recovery/purification technology integrated into vehicles as a way of sharply reducing the Army’s logistics burden.
July 18/07: The US Army issues the required approvals to begin production of FCS Spin Out 1 technologies, and details the components involved: Network Integration “B” kit, NLOS C, NLOS-LS, UGS. See full DID coverage.
March 8/07: FCW – “Bolton: FCS network will deploy in 2012.”
“The network for the Army’s Future Combat System will be deployed in 2012, two years ahead of schedule, because of simplification of the FCS design, according to Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisitions, logistics and technology… The FCS network is an amalgamation of information technology architecture, hardware and software, including the Joint Tactical Radio System [DID: JTRS], the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical system [DID: WIN-T] and intelligence sensors.”
Feb 13/07: A US Army publication states that the initial version of the network operating system, the joint tactical radio system (JTRS), the tactical and urban unattended ground sensors and the NETFIRES non-line-of-sight launch system are funded for the first spin-out of FCS systems starting in fiscal 2008.
There is no funding currently for the small unmanned ground vehicle and the Class I unmanned aerial vehicle for the first spin-out. They are slated as options in spin-out 2, if funding is available.
Feb 8/07 USA’s $160+ Billion Future Combat Systems Restructured. 4 systems deferred, one moved out, a couple spin-outs moved up, some investments shifted.
Jan 9/07 The official release “Army Makes Adjustments to Future Force Unmanned Aerial Systems” indicates that its Class II and Class III UAV programs are not slated for deployment, and existing UAVs (the RQ-7 Shadow and Warrior/ERMP UAV currently in development) will fill those roles. The Class I MAV program and the RQ-8B Fire Scout (Class IV winner) will go ahead. Indeed, the release advises that the US Army will:
* examine opportunities for commonality between the Class IV Unmanned Aerial Systems and other Army aviation systems within the Combat Aviation Brigade;
* examine how to equip our forward-deployed manned and unmanned aviation assets with FCS technology for the joint network to help improve platform-network synergies;
* and, consider including the FCS Class I and Class IV unmanned aerial systems in an FCS Spin Out or technology insertion.