GAO: Army must modernize with acquisition reforms

Monday - 4/26/2010, 7:45pm EDT

Mike Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management issues, GAO

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

The U.S. Army is taking a new approach when it comes to getting troops ready to fight in the 21st century, but needs to focus on acquisition reforms as well as new processes and technologies, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Since Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the end of the Future Combat Systems in 2009, the Army has been working on its new plan, the Brigade Combat Team Modernization.

The Army is currently implementing Increment 1 of this new plan, and is moving away from the long-term acquisition policies of FCS to a shorter-term approach that develops and rolls out equipment more quickly.

Mike Sullivan is director of acquisition and sourcing management issues at the GAO, which recently released a report about how the Army is doing with Brigade Combat Team Modernization.

He explained that the elimination of FCS didn't necessarily mean the Army had to start all over, but a lot will be done differently from now on.

"What they decided to do was take a look at what they had under the Future Combat System and pick out some of those components that were pretty mature -- that they were fairly far along with -- they refer to them as 'spinouts'. So, this would have been a number of unmanned ground vehicles that were pretty far along in development, an unmanned aerial vehicle, some sensors and some foundational network stuff that could hook all that up. They decided their first order of business would be to put together a program called 'Increment 1', for combat brigade teams . . . to make a program out of those and deliver them as quickly as possible."

FCS was much more complex than previous weapons systems programs mainly because it was what Sullivan called a 'system of systems'. Therefore, if one smaller system had problems, much of the entire FCS was affected.

In addition, each system was dependent on technologies that weren't fully created or tested. In many cases, Sullivan explained, the technology for the system was being developed with the system itself.

In this latest report, Sullivan said the GAO did find that the Army has learned from its mistakes in certain cases, but in other areas work still needs to be done.

"[Increment 1] for the Brigade Combat Team -- the spinouts -- we believe that perhaps they're moving out a little too quickly. They've tested a lot of those . . . and the systems and the network were all immature, unreliable and they were performing as required in the test -- an operational test -- but they still made a decision to go ahead with the program and try to deliver and field that in the 2012 time frame. . . . In other words, they made a production decision based on things that we think still need a lot more development. We believe there's more risk in there than they should have taken on."

Secretary Gates did say, however, that the warfighters were in need, which Sullivan said became part of the Army's mission to role equipment out quickly; therefore, GAO recommended in both its report and testimony to have the Army identify both maturity and reliability issues, and then correct them prior to putting the equipment in the field, or approve more money to fix the systems.

In addition to getting rid of FCS, DoD has made a number of reforms when it comes to acquisition policies.

In GAO's report, however, Sullivan said the Army still has a long way to go when it comes to implementing those reforms and quickly rolling out useful technology at the same time.

"[The reforms] really affirm the fact that you have to have full knowledge of technologies and you have to have reduced design and manufacturing risk before you should move forward and invest more money and make a production decision. Well, they've already made the production decision, and they still have significant risks with the reliability and maturity. When they tested these things, they weren't testing production representative systems. A lot of them them were surrogates and things like that, so they didn't get a good feel for how feasible these systems will be once fielded."

It is not all bad news, however. The Army agreed with the recommendations made by the GAO.

"The Army concedes that there's risk here and that they have reliability issues. What they've promised is that they will not field any of these components. There are seven or eight that they're working on, and some of them are further along than others. So, what they said is they will not field any of them unless they're ready."

Despite that assurance, Sullivan said the GAO is still concerned because the Army has passed the point in its business case where they promised more and may deliver less; however, the GAO does acknowledge that the Army is trying to mitigate the overall problem.