The Costly Road to Modernization

The road to modernization seems paved with gold, which seems to be the conclusion of the GAO.

The GAO’s March 2009 “Defense Acquisitions Decisions Needed to Shape Army’s Combat Systems for the Future” report puts lawmakers and defense officials on notice that the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) might get more expensive. It also lays out courses of action for decision makers.

Congress’ bean counters have their pulse on the centerpiece of Army modernization and perform an annual review of the FCS. In 2006, researchers recommended DoD “establish a Defense Acquisition Board milestone review following the Army’s design review.” The GAO further recommended it be a “go/no-go review,” meaning the Army and FCS had to prove themselves or risk reduced funding — or even cancellation.

According to the March report, this year’s review will assess whether:

(1) warfighters’ needs are valid and can be best met with the concept of the program;
(2) the concept of the program can be developed and produced within existing resources; and
(3) the program should
(a) continue as currently structured;
(b) continue in restructured form; or
(c) be terminated.

This would be fine, except the GAO has reported the Army will have a tough time demonstrating the knowledge necessary to receive unqualified support of FCS. The GAO says it reviewed crucial documents, performed analyses, and attended demonstrations and design reviews. Researchers also spoke with defense officials to reach their conclusions.

It seems the FCS programs are behind, and the information necessary is just not available because the systems are just not mature enough. This might not have been avoidable, but the GAO says the information is necessary to make decisions on the program. The GAO sees FCS costs increasing — 60 percent of the development budget already has been spent, though development is not 60 percent complete.

This comes at an inconvenient time — lawmakers will shake down Peter to fund Paul. The Army already has reduced its FCS systems from 18 to 15, though Army officials maintain this was due in large part to redundancies. But the senior service’s track record with “needs” like Comanche and Crusader might not bolster the FCS cause.

The gauntlet has been thrown. The stakes are high while expectations seem low. At a minimum, the GAO has recommended withholding some funding until the Army can meet certain conditions “such as preparation of a complete budget for any program emerging from the milestone.”

We’re sure FCS programmers are fashioning their strategy. We assume it does not include musicians at Metro stops.

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