By Ann Roosevelt

In the latest of its continuing series of examinations of the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests Congress hold off on full funding of the program in the Fiscal Year 2010 president’s budget until specific conditions are met.

“GAO suggests Congress consider not approving full funds for the program until several conditions are met, such as preparation of a complete budget for any program emerging from the milestone review,” government auditors say in “Defense Acquisitions: Decisions Needed to Shape Army’s Combat Systems for the Future” (GAO-09-288).

GAO also recommends the defense secretary ensure the FCS program that comes out of the milestone review this spring conforms to current defense acquisition policy, such as technological maturity, that any spin out approach is based on fully tested results and any incremental strategy involves free standing justifiable increments.

DoD concurred with the report’s recommendations.

“GAO and FCS have had a very close relationship; that’s a relationship that’s worked well, and the FCS program has implemented many of the GAO changes recommended in prior reports,” Paul Mehney, Army FCS program spokesman, told Defense Daily.

The report airs auditor’s concerns that, “there is an existing tension between program costs and available funds that seems only likely to worsen as FCS costs are likely to increase at the same time as competition for funds intensifies between near-and far-term needs in DoD and between DoD and other federal agencies.”

The report said the current program acquisition strategy is “unlikely” to be executed within the current $159 billion cost estimate. The acquisition strategy calls for significant production commitments before designs are demonstrated.

“To date, FCS has spent about 60 percent of its development funds, even though the most expensive activities remain to be done before a production decision,” the report said. In February 2010, Congress will be asked for advance procurement funds for FCS core systems “before most prototype deliveries, critical design review and key system tests.” Congress will have been asked for more than $50 billion in funding for FCS by the 2013 production decision.

The FCS program is managed for the Army by Boeing [BA] and SAIC [SAI] with some 869 suppliers. It has consistently reported being on cost and on schedule in program updates to reporters.

GAO data can, in some cases, lag the status of a program due to the need to actually write the report.

For example, the FCS program has advanced in technology readiness, the program office said.

“We are at where we said we would be in this point of the program,” Mehney said. All 10 of the system preliminary design reviews have been held and the system of systems review is slated for May.

“It’s important to note, 35 of 44 technologies have been certified at TRL Level 6. The remaining nine should be certified prior to the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) this summer, he said.

“We also recently completed a successful test verifying that the integration of FCS networked systems and Battle Command Software is proceeding as planned,” SAIC spokesman Regen Wilson said.

Boeing spokesman Matthew Billingsley said, “This is a level of progress that will enable the Army to push effective technology to soldiers sooner than initially planned. More than five years into development, we continue to successfully execute the FCS program to the Army’s plan.

Soldiers are applying the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan to their testing and evaluation of FCS equipment in preparation for the Spin Out Limited User Test scheduled to take place in July 2009,” he said. “This not only reduces program risk, but helps ensure that the end products are meeting the requirements of the end user–our nation’s soldiers.”

The program’s acquisition strategy is different from the usual program, he said. ” The program’s flexible, adaptive acquisition strategy has enabled the Army to adjust the FCS program based on operational needs and lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to accelerate delivery of FCS capabilities to Infantry Brigade Combat Teams is a clear example of this flexibility. It also reflects Army confidence in program progress and technology maturity.”

In 2009 alone, FCS has 203 tests scheduled, Mehney said.