The Army's Future Combat System (FCS): Background and Issues for Congress

Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Military and defense



The Future Combat System (FCS) is the U.S. Army's multiyear, multibilliondollar program at the heart of the Army's transformation efforts. It is to be the Army's major research, development, and acquisition program consisting of 18 manned and unmanned systems tied together by an extensive communications and information network. FCS is intended to replace such current systems as the M-1 Abrams tank and the M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle with advanced, networked combat systems.

The FCS program has been characterized by the Army and others as a high- risk venture due to the advanced technologies involved as well as the challenge of networking all of the FCS subsystems together so that FCSequipped units can function as intended. The FCS program exists in a dynamic national security environment which could significantly influence the program's outcome. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and potential defense budget cuts could play a role in shaping the FCS program. The revised FCS program timeline -- including four "Spin-Outs" whereby equipment is to be tested first by a FCS evaluation brigade and then introduced into the current force -- has extended the program's timeline by four years and has added additional funding requirements, but it has also served to reduce some of the risk associated with this admittedly high-risk venture.

The overall FCS program budget has risen steadily since the program's inception and because the program is still in its early stages, its full costs are not yet known. The FCS program is managed by a lead systems integrator group consisting of major defense contractors Boeing and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Although widely criticized, the Army adopted this program management approach because it maintains it did not have the required acquisition, scientific, and engineering staff to manage a program of this complexity and scope. The program's recent conversion from an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) agreement to a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contract -- in part due to congressional pressure -- raises concerns regarding increasing program costs as well as the Army's ability to take on a larger role in overseeing and executing this highly complex and technologically risky program.

The FCS is experiencing a number of program development issues - with some technologies advancing quicker than anticipated, others progressing along predicted lines, while still others not meeting the Army's expectations. Congress, in its authorization, appropriation, and oversight roles may wish to review the FCS program in terms of its capabilities and program costs. This report will be updated as the situation warrants.