The remaining technologies formerly known as the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) continue to fall. The service announced Feb. 4 its decision to “no longer pursue the Unattended Ground Sensors and the Class 1 Unmanned Air System” as part of the Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) program, the follow-on program that grew out of the cancellation of FCS.
The announcement was not really much of a shock, since in January the Army had issued prime contractor Boeing a “stop-work” order on the Class I and the Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors. While those programs have fallen, the Army reaffirmed that it will continue low-rate initial production of two elements of the E-IBCT program - the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUG-V) and Network Integration Kit (NIK).
But there are still issues.
First of all, the E-IBCT program is being phased out, and the SUG-V and the NIK are being farmed out to separate program offices. But the NIK also may come to pass. “The NIK in its current form is a bridge capability,” says Paul Mehney of the Army’s program executive office for integration, “it is not the final solution.” In other words, while the Army wants a networking capability similar to what the NIK provides, in the end it does not want to NIK.
During testing last year at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., soldiers working with the network decided they did not really want or need to push images and video around the battlefield the way that FCS was pursuing. Instead of video and images, the ability to chat and share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data is key, Mehney says, “somewhat less of an issue to be able to transmit massive amounts of data—that includes pictures and video.” The tests showed that “what soldiers were saying was that they needed the ability to share tactical information, mission information, down at those lower levels and to be able to communicate that down at those levels.”
In other words, moving video and images up to headquarters in real time, and waiting for them to be analyzed and sent back out to the field was too time consuming.
But the NIK — which is a battlefield network hub made up of an Integrated Computer System, the JTRS Ground Mobile Radio and Blue Force Tracker — is not going away immediately. As a bridge to a next-generation capability, it will remain in testing to further evaluate the key waveforms - the Wideband Networking Waveform and the Soldier Radio Waveform.
The Army plans to take receipt of the first brigade sets of the Class 1 and ground sensors currently under contract, but they will not field them. The SUG-V is slated for two more brigade sets, while the NIK will continue for one more brigade set — for a total of two brigade sets—but at this point there are no plans to continue past that.
Now that the E-IBCT testing has proved out some of the capabilities of the network, they Army plans to reach out to industry within the next several months to solicit ideas for technologies that can easily integrate into the network and deliver better capabilities. Officials will be looking at two things, Mehney says: technical readiness and maturity.
A big part of what the Army is looking for is integration readiness. “Is it easily integrateable into the tactical network at a brigade level?” He outlines a two step process where the Army will reach out to laboratories, academia and industry to further develop Army programs of record and also locate off the shelf technologies, which may prove useful in future capability sets.
The technologies that the Army is asking industry to show could be either hardware or software, Mehney says, adding that “we may need ‘Y’ still or need a cheaper ‘X’ solution that’s easily integrateable, so we’re going to go out and give the acquisition community a list of requirements” to support the capability set that the Army plans to fully test in 2015-2016.
Meantime, a major test is planned this summer at White Sands, N.M., that will put an entire mixed Heavy/Stryker brigade — the 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division — in the field to test these emerging capabilities, with follow-on tests in the fall and throughout 2012. So while the FCS structure continues to be unwound, ironically, some of the capabilities brought to bear are still very much in the game.