The Government Accountability Office minced no words in expressing its alarm about the Army's Future Combat Systems project. Five years and many hundreds of millions of dollars into the project, and there's still no way to say "if or when the information network that is at the heart of the FCS concept can be developed, built, and demonstrated."
Government Inc. has just one word here: Yikes!
My colleague Alec Klein has been showing just why there's such concern. For starters, the project, with Boeing as the main contractor, is expected to cost some $200 billion. Boeing has been having some troubles on government contracts lately, as some of you know.
Sadly, based on the past performance of technology contractors, the actual price tag could end up at $400 billion, maybe more. Who knows?
Here's what Alec wrote in The Washington Post in December. "In the Army's vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It's as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.
"It's also one of the most controversial. Even as some early versions of these weapons make their way onto the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, members of Congress, government investigators and military observers question whether the Defense Department has set the stage for one of its biggest and costliest failures. At risk, they say, are billions of taxpayer dollars spent on exotic technology that may never come to fruition, leaving the Army little time and few resources to prepare for new threats."
In their report, GAO auditors seemed very gloomy too: "Because the performance of the network and the success of the software effort are not assured, decision makers should allow for the possibility that full success will not be achieved."
What to do with a revolutionary system that will cost gazillions and may not work? How should the government reevaluate? All ideas welcome. Stay tuned.
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