Future Combat Systems Makes the Grade

August 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

The non-line-of-sight cannon (NLOS-C) is the first vehicle of the Future Combat Systems (FCS) family of platforms to be competed. Eight prototypes will be made and tested under field conditions. Highly automated, the NLOS-C can fire a variety of ammunition more rapidly and accurately than the U.S. Army’s current mobile gun systems.
Effort passes several important milestones for network size, connectivity.

TThe U.S. Army’s ambitious transformation program is making headway with a series of successful tests and demonstrations. Designed to create an integrated family of vehicles, robots and weapons systems linked through a unified battlefield network, the program has been criticized as being overly complex and expensive. But Army officials hope that the recent tests, coupled with the initial deployment of components of the new system, indicate that the overall effort is on track.

Intended to move the Army into the 21st century, the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program recently concluded several technical field tests designed to evaluate software data and communications architectures and key pieces of equipment. Program officials note that the FCS’ preliminary testing and training phase culminated with a limited user test this July. Tests at Fort Bliss, Texas, verified the systems’ sensor connectivity and sensor range. The tests also looked at the systems’ ability to collect photographs from sensors and transfer the data via B Kits, which are the first pieces of FCS software and equipment to be issued to active forces as part of Spinout 1 (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2007). The evaluations also demonstrated that the preliminary build of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) ground mobile radio (GMR) is operating as anticipated.

These hardware and software capabilities then underwent a brigade-sized operation in the limited user test held at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, and Fort Bliss. The user test simulated urban and conventional warfare settings and focused on linking the sensor networks with the B Kits and the non-line-of-sight launch system (NLOS-LS).

The NLOS-LS is part of FCS Spinout 1. It consists of a cluster of missiles launched vertically from a shipping canister that can be mounted on a vehicle or positioned on the ground. The missiles are equipped with a multipurpose warhead allowing them to engage a range of targets on the battlefield. The program also conducted tests covering maintenance and user testability with the container launch system. The NLOS-LS also recently passed successful flight tests for the weapon’s precision munitions system. The Army was able to launch an NLOS-LS missile, track a target and destroy it.

The most recent part of the tests evaluated the effectiveness of the precision-guided munition system manufactured by the Raytheon Company. The system has proved successful in tracking and destroying targets. NLOS-LS testing is ongoing at White Sands and Fort Bliss, and the next phase of the weapon’s development will be to link it with the brigade-level command and control systems.

The program also is testing its first non-line-of-sight cannon (NLOS-C) prototype. According to Col. Bryan McVeigh, USA, project manager for manned systems, FCS Brigade Combat Team, Warren, Michigan, a total of eight prototype mobile guns will be made. The NLOS-C is the first of the FCS vehicle family to be completed. In September 2010, these vehicles will be issued to the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF) at Fort Bliss for testing and developing tactics.

An important feature of the NLOS-C and all of the vehicles built around the FCS chassis is that they share the same engines, mission modules and power packs. The entire vehicle fleet is designed for 70 to 80 percent commonality. This compatibility will greatly reduce a unit’s logistics footprint, he explains. The NLOS-C will move to a low-rate initial production for the program’s Milestone C.

The highly automated NLOS-C has a two-man crew located in the vehicle’s forward compartment. Compared to current mobile artillery pieces such as the Paladin, which has a manually operated gun, a single NLOS-C has the equivalent firepower of an entire company of Paladins, the colonel claims. The automated gun achieves this combat capability because it is capable of maintaining a high rate of fire until its magazine is empty.

The NLOS-C can fire a range of 155-millimeter shells, including Global Positioning System-guided Excalibur rounds. Phased-array radar tracking systems on the front of the vehicle’s turret allow the crew to correct the accuracy of fire, with the second round being more precise than the first. Because the vehicles are all linked via the FCS command and control network, a company of NLOS-Cs can all share tracking and fire correction data when it conducts a barrage.

All FCS vehicles use the same hybrid electric propulsion system. Although originally intended to be air transported via C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the vehicles require the larger C-17. Three NLOS-Cs can be transported in one C-17.

Col. McVeigh is sanguine about the program’s future, noting that the prototype is an example of the progress made. “It’s no longer PowerPoint,” he says. The NLOS-C will begin testing with the AETF at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in early 2009.

Designed to provide additional eyes for troops in the field, the small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV) and the Class 1 unmanned aerial vehicle are currently undergoing Army evaluations.  
The AETF also is continuing to test the JTRS GMR radios issued as part of the B Kits. Officials note that the program currently is deconflicting the competing data needs from Army communications sources and the ability to transfer unattended ground sensor information over the network.

Another key feature of JTRS is the System of Systems Common Operating Environment (SOSCOE), which program officials noted is operating to expectations. SOSCOE will continue to be updated and integrated as the program moves through its phases.

In late 2008, the FCS program will undertake an integrated mission test that will include SOSCOE’s phase 2 and phase 3 software builds together in a controlled environment. The test will examine how the software can coordinate an entire FCS brigade combat team in battle. Officials explained that the test will feature command and control vehicles manned by AETF soldiers and will be running SOSCOE. They will perform battlefield missions to evaluate SOSCOE and its phase 2 and phase 3 builds. The tests will feature robust command and control, targeting and sensor data being passed between vehicles across the FCS network. On a more limited scale, the software also will transfer logistics and training information.

Program officials are optimistic about the progress of the software builds for SOSCOE. They note that phases 1 through 3 are on course to meet their goals. The FCS also is on track to integrate JTRS and Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) systems. Officials note that the network aspects of the program are coming together and are beginning to work as anticipated.

SOSCOE is the heart of the FCS battlefield network, explains Gregg J. Martin, Boeing vice president and FCS program manager. He adds that SOSCOE is 75 percent complete and consists of some 17.3 million lines of code. The near future will see further network testing with a 1,000-node test scheduled for this fall.

The version of SOSCOE currently available in the B Kits consists of a communications architecture supporting a radio layer. This architecture permits interoperability with a variety of applications and systems such as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS) and the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2). Martin explains that the next major challenge for SOSCOE is security, noting that the system currently operates at the unclassified level. Security will become increasingly important as data from FCS systems such as unattended ground sensors is moved across the network.

Security functions will be introduced into SOSCOE in a series of software builds. Martin explains that by the third software build, additional complex applications such as battle management tools will be included.

Warfighter experiences based on ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping to develop new approaches and doctrine for the FCS program, officials say. For example, the entire network approach for phase 1 of the FCS program was designed to keep data at a single classification level. Much of the initial feedback from soldiers was that many standard inter-unit communications do not have to be encrypted. However, under the current network design, all messages are coded. The program and the contractors listened to soldiers’ network concerns and are now installing changes in the system. Officials note that this is just one example of how user input is being incorporated into the software development process.

The use of urban and unattended sensors is another example of how testing and feedback altered equipment design and use. These unattended sensors are designed for placement in buildings cleared by troops to detect any enemy forces reinfiltrating an area. But soldiers found that the devices also could be used for perimeter security such as monitoring doors and exits. Based on this feedback, the Army’s training and development personnel began to outline methods and doctrine for using the sensors.

Work also has progressed on the Class 1 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV). In December, the Army ordered these two systems to undergo accelerated evaluations, and both are currently undergoing tests at Fort Bliss.

The man-portable SUGV is being used for a variety of building-clearing missions. Officials note that the AETF troops testing the robot are combat veterans who have adapted the machine to a range of mission profiles that are now being included in the program’s evaluation cycle for training techniques.

The Class 1 UAV is a canister-shaped machine capable of hovering and fixing its sensors on a target. But early versions of the UAV had fixed sensors, which forced troops to move the entire vehicle to track a target or view another area. Based on requests from warfighters, officials say that the Class 1, block 0 UAV that AETF troops are now training with is equipped with a gimbaled sensor that can track a target without having to move the entire aircraft.

In 2009, the FCS program will move to the Milestone C decision, which follows the limited user test. Based on data from the user test, Milestone C is where the program will request the Army to move to low-rate initial production. If the program continues on this track, Spinout 1 equipment and systems will begin to be fielded in 2010 to current Army brigades, officials say. Spinout 1 consists of the B Kits, tactical and urban unattended sensors, the NLOS-LS and potentially the SUGV and the Class 1 UAV.

The decision for the unmanned components will occur after these two systems are evaluated, starting this fall, officials say.

However, budget issues continue to affect the program. While the FCS faces additional cuts in this year’s defense budget, the B Kits and Spinout 1 will be largely unaffected as they are already poised for low-rate initial production. But program officials note that the cumulative effect of the cuts will leave its mark on ongoing development. Over the last several years, the FCS program has absorbed some $780 million in cumulative cuts.

Due to the cuts, program milestones have been moved back, and it has affected program scheduling for core systems and spinout timetables. Officials note that the program is continuing to work with Congress to examine the fiscal 2009 budget cycle to resolve issues so that Spinout and core program systems will not be affected.

However, the cuts have caused schedules, such as those set for 2008, to be moved back. Officials note that if the cuts proposed by the House of Representatives make it through the budget process, either completely or as a compromise package with the Senate, it may affect the deployment of the spinouts.

Besides affecting hardware, continued cuts also would impact how the program pays for soldier training and funds for evaluation. Budget reductions also may affect the overall program development cycle that acquires feedback from soldiers testing the equipment.

Web Resource
Future Combat Systems: http://www.fcs.army.mil


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