Defense Acquisitions:

Opportunities Exist to Position Army's Ground Force Modernization Efforts for Success

GAO-10-406: Published: Mar 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2010.

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Since 2003, the Future Combat System (FCS) program has been the centerpiece of the Army's efforts to transition to a lighter, more agile, and more capable combat force. In 2009, however, concerns over the program's performance led to the Secretary of Defense's decision to significantly restructure and ultimately cancel the program. As a result, the Army has outlined a new approach to ground force modernization. This report (1) outlines the Army's preliminary post-FCS plans and (2) identifies the challenges and opportunities the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Army must address as they proceed with Army ground force modernization efforts. To meet these objectives, GAO reviewed key documents, performed analyses, visited test facilities where the Army evaluated FCS equipment, and interviewed DOD and Army officials.

With DOD having canceled the FCS acquisition program, the Army has moved away from FCS as the centerpiece of ground force modernization. Although the Army is still refining its post-FCS plans, it has already taken a number of actions to comply with DOD directions and define new modernization initiatives. For instance, the Army has terminated FCS vehicle development and is preparing for a new ground combat vehicle program. Also, Army officials convened a special task force to refine future force concepts and formulate an expedited fielding strategy. The Army also announced preliminary plans for new acquisition programs. With ground force modernization efforts at an early stage, DOD and the Army face the challenge of setting the emerging modernization efforts on the best possible footing by buying the right capabilities at the best value. They have an opportunity to position these efforts for success by effectively implementing the enhanced body of acquisition legislation and DOD policy reforms as well as lessons learned from the FCS program, including lessons that underscore the use of knowledge-based acquisition and disciplined contracting strategies. Preliminary plans suggest that the Army is moving in that direction, including expectations to begin future developments with mature technologies and utilizing competitive prototyping. However, DOD recently approved, with a number of restrictions, low-rate initial production of the first increment of FCS spinout equipment, such as new radios and sensors, despite having acknowledged that the systems were immature, unreliable, and not performing as required. The restrictions include required DOD reviews of Army progress toward improving the systems' maturity and reliability. The spin out equipment was being developed within the FCS program, and the decision to approve production reflects DOD and Army emphasis on providing new capabilities quickly to combat units. However, this decision runs the risk of delivering unacceptable equipment to the warfighter and trading off acquisition principles whose validity has been so recently underscored. Detailed plans for most of the Army's new modernization efforts are still being developed and may not be available until at least later in fiscal year 2010. That will be a limiting factor as the Congress considers the Army's fiscal year 2011 budget request for these modernization efforts.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that only technically mature and reliable capabilities are fielded to the warfighters, the Secretary of Defense should mandate that the Army correct the identified maturity and reliability issues with the Increment 1 network and systems prior to approving any additional lots of the Increment 1 network and systems for production. Specifically, the Army should ensure that the network and the individual systems have been independently assessed as fully mature, meet reliability goals, and have been demonstrated to perform as expected using production-representative prototypes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments, DOD concurred with our recommendation, and indicated that the need to correct deficiencies had been communicated to the Army, additional testing would be conducted, and the systems evaluated before more production was authorized. Based on the subsequent testing in August 2010, independent evaluators rated several systems as less than mature, offered almost no military utility, and were still unable to meet reliability requirements. In a February 2011 acquisition decision memorandum, the USD(ATL) acknowledged the poor performance of several systems and terminated their acquisition. Despite poor test results and technical reviews, the USD/ATL initially authorized additional production and testing of the radios, which were to be a key element of the Army network. In that additional testing, however, the radios again performed poorly and the Army made a decision to terminate their acquisition and look for alternative radios.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should not field the Increment 1 network or any of the Increment 1 systems until the identified maturity and reliability issues have been corrected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a written response to our draft report, DOD concurred with this recommendation. Following poor test results and reviews from independent evaluators, the USD(ATL) terminated most of the Increment 1 systems in February 2011. However, he did authorize additional procurement of the radio systems (which are the major component of the Network Integration Kit) and the Small UGV's. Despite poor test results and technical reviews, the USD/ATL initially authorized additional production and testing of the radios, which were to be a key element of the Army network. In that additional testing, however, the radios again performed poorly and the Army made a decision to terminate their acquisition and look for alternative radios.

    Recommendation: In order to enhance congressional visibility into the Army's plans in this area, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Army to submit a comprehensive report to the Congress before the end of fiscal year 2010 on its ground force modernization investment, contracting, and management strategies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since we made this recommendation, the Army has made a number of changes in its modernization strategy. Based on recent combat experience, it has identified the types and mix of capabilities--including combat vehicle capabilities--needed to meet current and anticipated threats. The Army is now using an incremental approach to developing those capabilities that is closely aligned with its fielding and training processes. Moreover, it has adopted a portfolio review process that is intended to achieve balance within and across capability areas. Released in April 2010, the Army Modernization Strategy, and the subsequent Army Modernization Plan 2012, explains how the annual budget request moves the Army toward achieving its revised modernization strategies. While that Plan does not address all aspects of our recommendation, it clearly shows that the Army has made strides in moving away from the terminated Future Combat System program and has made key decisions in charting a viable acquisition strategy for the coming years.

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