Boeing refines Future Combat System for U.S. Army

ST. LOUIS, 27 May 2005. The Pentagon is spending $122 billion on an Internet connection to remove the fog of war.

Within 10 years, grunts on the ground won't have to lead with their chins. Robotic planes, sensor pods and unmanned ground vehicles will shoulder some of the dirty work of looking around corners. Out of harm's way, soldiers will watch the action on a small computer, eager to unleash the latest firepower with a text message on their software-based radios.

Chances of friendly fire will be lower, because the crew of the F/A-18 Super Hornet flying overhead will have a clear picture of the enemy target on an 8-by-10 inch color monitor inside the cockpit.

It's not fantasy. Within a few years, elements of that scenario will be ready for battle, Boeing Co. and Army officials say.

By fiscal 2007, an active Army unit will begin testing early equipment of Future Combat Systems, whose cornerstone is a digital communications network that connects soldiers, pilots, ships, satellites, robotic planes and tanks to command centers and an array of weapons systems across all branches of the military.

"We're taking the network that sits on your desktop and giving it to the guys at the point of the spear," said Brig. Gen. Charles A. Cartwright, who's overseeing the $122 billion program in Hazelwood, Mo., for the Army.

The Army's digital doctrine is guided by what it calls "a quality of firsts -- see first, understand first, act first."

Napoleon lost at Waterloo partly because a poor communications network prevented his soldiers from getting to the right place at the right time.

The Pentagon wants a network of unmanned planes, vehicles, soldiers and jet fighters and electronic sensors to remove the "fog of war," a phrase made famous by Karl von Clausewitz, a Prussian army officer whose 19th-century book "On War" is considered a seminal work in military theory.

An 18-year-old who today plays video games, listens to music on an iPod and bangs out cell-phone text messages simultaneously will be an Army captain on the battlefield of the future, operating in the middle of up to 6,000 decisions in 30 minutes, Cartwright said.

The captain won't make that many decisions, but the network around him, plugged into a multitude of sensors and weapons, will shape and accelerate the decision-making of future combat operations, Cartwright said. The soldier on the ground can be included or excluded, depending on the situation.

Future Combat Systems, or FCS, is the Army's most expensive and complex project ever. Boeing is managing the St. Louis-based FCS program, which promises to integrate all U.S. forces with a common picture of the battlefield.

The idea is to create a more-mobile fighting force that uses network-generated information to provide better awareness during the chaos of combat.

With superior information, commanders can make better decisions on how they deploy weapons and troops. Ultimately, the premise says, superior information and firepower will secure victory.

Or, as Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest put it, "Get there firstest with the mostest."

The cost of designing and building FCS is nearly unmatched in the annals of Pentagon spending. But Boeing and the Army say the expense of operating and maintaining an FCS unit of some 3,000 soldiers will be substantially less than a traditional brigade.

The Army's manned ground vehicles, for example, will be much lighter and have mostly common parts, drastically cutting spare part requirements and fuel consumption, said Dennis Muilenburg, FCS program manager for Boeing.

The Army's logistical supply trail will be reduced as much as 50 percent because of FCS, he said.

Here's the downside.

The cost of the program probably will grow, forcing reduction or cancellation of other weapons programs to make room in a defense budget strained by the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Already, the Pentagon has cut the Commanche helicopter and the Crusader artillery system in favor of FCS spending, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently noted at an Armed Services subcommittee meeting.

Putting FCS together is so complex that some inside Boeing and the Army have compared it with putting a man on the moon.

Jeff Worley, Boeing's deputy program manager for FCS, said his previous work on the international space station was like putting together Tinkertoys compared with his mission of fielding digitally connected Army units of 3,000-plus soldiers.

However, Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing's St. Louis-based defense business, winces at the thought of FCS' complexity being overplayed. To members of Congress, complexity also can be code for cost overruns, making them nervous.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative -- the concept of a space-based missile shield against Soviet nuclear warheads -- derisively was called Star Wars, because of the seemingly far-fetched technology and exorbitant price tag.

"FCS is high-risk, but not risky," Albaugh said.

Still, more than 12 studies and internal audits have targeted FCS in the last two years, reflecting concerns over the cost and complexity. Albaugh said he welcomes the scrutiny.

Last year, the Army restructured FCS so that current forces can receive its technology and equipment sooner, rather than wait until 2014 for a fully equipped FCS unit of action of about 3,000 soldiers. In all, the Army wants to field 15 units of action.

"It is not easily defined like a ship, plane or tank might be," Albaugh explained. "We're working hard on our messages . . . on what sort of capabilities the (FCS) program brings to the warfighter of the future and currently deployed forces. Yes, we do need to do a better job of communicating what those capabilities are. There's no question we need to do that."

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee expressed "numerous concerns" about the FCS program, citing immature technology, unknown costs and duplication. The committee passed a defense spending bill that cuts $400 million, or 9 percent, from FCS' proposed funding of $3.8 billion for fiscal 2006. It also said the program should be restructured. In the Senate, however, the markup of the defense spending bill left FCS spending fully intact.

Fiscal concerns aside, the technology isn't a given.

The digital radios -- a vital layer in the communications network -- have experienced software problems in the early phase. Boeing's development of the Joint Tactical Radio System, or Jitters, is a $15 billion piece of FCS that will allow old hardware-only radios to communicate with software-based sets through a common operating language.

The digital radios will be based in every element of FCS, from soldiers to fighter jets, transferring voice, data and video between man and machine. The digital radios also are vital to building an airborne Internet, which has never been done, Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom Hobbins said in the Air & Space Power Journal.

As a lead systems integrator on the FCS program, Boeing has the Herculean task of building a common operating system that allows all weapons systems to talk to each other. It's a radical concept for the defense industry.

It some respects, Boeing is writing software akin to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system for personal computers. But instead of tying together computers made by Dell, Apple or IBM, the operating system under construction at Boeing will link rivals such as Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp. and Raytheon Inc.

Its means an Abrams tank made by General Dynamics and a Lockheed-made F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet will plug into the same network, communicate with each other and still have proprietary applications inside each respective weapon.

"The network almost operates like a heart valve, controlling the flow of messages as a heart would control the flood of blood," Cartwright said.

Boeing recently released the first version of the System of Systems Common Operating Environment, which consisted of 3.2 million lines of software code. Version 1.0 had its share of bugs, and elements of the Java and C++ software used had pass rates of 69 percent and 67 percent, respectively, according to the Army's qualification test. Muilenburg said most of the problems have been corrected.

Also running off the common operating system will be applications for battle command management, training and logistics software. In addition, the sensor layer will feed information into the network.

"Even though risks come up in development, by going through an incremental test, experiment and fielding process, we believe that allows us to manage the risk effectively," Muilenburg said.

Testing the FCS network will become a common exercise in St. Louis, where Boeing recently opened a $25 million Virtual Warfare Center. Simulating war scenarios with actual soldiers and pilots will help develop a reliable FCS network. The center will be able to connect to other Boeing locations, so software, helicopters, surveillance planes and fighter jets can test themselves in a war games environment.

Cartwright said having soldiers involved in the early development of the digital network and FCS-based weapons promises to be a rigorous review.

"About every two years, we'll take stuff to the active Army unit and they'll tell us, 'You guys have got this screwed up, you need to fix it this way,' or 'We really like it this way,'" Cartwright said. "The soldier will always find a better way to do something."

By Tim McLaughlin
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

SBC-K7 Embedded PC for Instrumentation and Control

The SBC-K7 is an ideal platform for embedded instrumentation that combines an Atom PC running Win...

Rugged Mobile Communications Server

Advanced communications server designed to be deployed in environments where it needs to meet cer...

RR2P Removable Canister RAID System

Transportable data storage for mobile field use aboard planes, ships and ground transport. 2U, du...

M1U20xx 1U Military-Grade Computer System

The M1U20xx Military-Grade Rack Mount System is a reliable high-performance mil-spec 1U solution ...

Sensors Unlimited GA1280JSX High Resolution, Mil-Rugged, Extended High Sensitivity InGaAs SWIR Camera

Manufactures a high resolution, mil-rugged, extended high-sensitivity 0.9 Mpixel InGaAs SWIR came...

M4U20xx 4U Rackmount Military-Grade Computer

A 4U rugged military-grade computer offering the latest long-availability high-performance mother...

TFX-19 Trifold Rackmount LCD

The TFX1-19 is a rugged military grade high performance 2U rackmount LCD panel display offering t...

CCXR-17 Slideways Side Access Rackmount LCD Keyboard

The CCXR-17 is a unique Side Access space-efficient military-grade high-performance 1U rackmount ...

P317xx Portable Computer System w/ Three 17" LCDs

The P317xx portable " lunchbox" system is unique in offering three 17" 1280x1024 resolution LCD d...

Large Fiber Collimators

Diffraction Limited Large Fiber Collimators are designed for long distance beam propagation with ...

Related Companies

Innovative Integration

  Since 1988, Innovative Integration has grown to become one of the world's leading suppliers of DSP and data ac...

Elma Electronic Inc

Who we are...   About Elma Electronic Systems   The Systems division of Elma Electronic Inc. supplies the

Winchester Systems Inc

At its founding in 1981, Winchester Systems introduced its first 5 MB disk system for Intel development system users....

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...

American Infrared Solutions (AIRS)

American Infrared Solutions

Trenton Systems Inc

Designs and manufactures rugged rackmount computers and MIL-STD-810 systems using both standard COTS as well as custo...

GE Intelligent Platforms

GE Intelligent Platforms is a leading global provider of embedded computing systems and modules for a wide range of a...

Raycom Electronics

Raycom Electronics, Inc., a subsidiary of Electro Technik Industries (ETI), was incorporated in 1965.  The compa...

Intersil Corp

Intersil is leveraging a deep portfolio of intellectual property, a history of design and process innovation and a sy...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

Low Viscosity, One Part Cyanoacrylate Is Non-Toxic and Meets ISO 10993-5 Specifications

Master Bond MB250NT is widely used for a variety of applications ranging from repair to high speed producti...

Thermally Conductive, Two Component Epoxy Passes USP Class VI Tests and ISO 10993-5 Specifications

With biocompatibility and cytotoxicity certifications, Master Bond EP21AOLV-2Med is often selected for bond...

One Component, Snap Cure Epoxy Features High Strength Properties

Suitable for a variety of applications in the electronic, aerospace and OEM industries, Master Bond EP3SP5F...

One Part Epoxy Resists up to 500°F and Meets NASA Low Outgassing Specifications

Master Bond Supreme 12AOHT-LO is a one component epoxy for a variety of bonding and sealing applications in...


Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Defense Solutions division applauds Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) o...

Curtiss-Wright’s New Rugged Mobile IP Router Subsystem Features an Integrated Cisco® 5915 ESR Router

Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division, a Cisco® Systems Solution T...

VICTORY Shared Processing, Fire Control Computer, and Switch for Ground Vehicles Introduced by Curtiss-Wright

Curtiss-Wright Corporation today announced that its Defense Solutions division has introduced a new fully i...

GE Announces First Sub-Credit Card-Sized Multi-Function High Definition (HD) Video Tracker

HUNTSVILLE, AL.— OCTOBER 13, 2014—GE’s Intelligent Platforms business today announced at AUSA (October 13-...


Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Design Strategy Considerations for DO-178C Certified Multi-core Systems

Join Wind River to learn how system architecture and design choices can minimize your DO-178C certification challenges.

Sponsored by:

Flying, Sailing or Driving - The Rugged, Embedded Intel-based Server that goes where you need it!Flying Sailing or Driving

Leveraging the power of server-class processors is no longer relegated to the confines of data centers. Through several innovations, Mercury Systems has ruggedized Intel’s server-class chips for deployment. ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

April 2015
Volume 26, Issue 4

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles