The U.S. Army
soon will begin testing of
a prototype vehicle that will play a key role, along with new communications networks and sensors, in addressing fleeting targets similar to those faced by U.S. forces in Iraq today.


The first Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon prototype, which is part of the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS), is expected to be delivered
June 14, according to Paul Mehney, an FCS spokesman for the service.


Boeing Integrated Defense Systems of St. Louis and SAIC Corp. of San Diego
serve as lead systems integrators for the FCS program, which includes a variety of manned and unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned aircraft, and unattended ground sensors connected by satellites and terrestrial communications assets.


U.S. forces in Iraq today are often confronted by Iraqi insurgents who approach the Green Zone in pickup trucks, erect and fire a missile launcher, and flee within three to four minutes. Troops simply cannot respond fast enough to such rapid attacks, Mehney said. In those few short minutes sensors have to pick up and identify an approaching vehicle as a threat and send an alert to cannon operators, who then have to load, aim and fire their weapons, Mehney said.


The various integrated pieces of FCS are intended to
address the need to mount a faster response to such attacks,
Mehney said. An unattended ground sensor could pick up the approaching vehicle, cue a tiny Class 1 unmanned aerial vehicle to make a positive identification of the threat and ensure that the enemy is not surrounded by civilians, and then tap the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon
to destroy it, he said. The Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon features GPS-guided munitions that are loaded quickly by an automated mechanism.


Communications between the various integrated FCS elements can be handled
by networks that include satellites and terrestrial systems. If either the satellites or ground-based systems are not available for any reason, the other may not offer all of the desired capability, but it can serve as a backup, Mehney said.


Soldiers with the Army Evaluation Task Force will use the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon in realistic scenarios at Fort Bliss,
Texas, to provide feedback to the hardware developers as well as officials at the service’s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe in Virginia, Mehney said.


Conducting this work well before the vehicles go into production is intended to head off problems that might not otherwise be discovered until shortly before the systems are delivered for deployment around 2015, he said.


Meanwhile, testing is under way on two FCS elements that could be deployed much earlier than 2015. The Army determined in December that the Class 1 Block 0 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle robot are mature enough to begin testing about three years earlier than previously planned, Mehney said.


Soldiers with the Army Evaluation Task Force are evaluating the two systems and will give an assessment in October on whether they are ready to field, or if they need additional work, Mehney said. While the initial hardware
would not be fully capable, they
still could offer significant utility to troops in the field, he said.


FCS officials said in a fact sheet posted on an Army
Web site that the two vehicles could help with missions including clearing routes and buildings, as well as base security.

Other significant FCS testing
occurred recently
during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2008, which ran from April 15-25 at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and featured FCS radios and software, according to a Boeing news release dated May 19. These systems were used to pass situational awareness data between ground and aerial vehicles operated by the Army as well as other services in an operational setting, according to the news release.


The Army requested a total of $3.6 billion for the various FCS elements in 2009. The Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the request in its version of the 2009 defense authorization legislation, while the House Armed Services Committee reduced the request by $200 million in its version of the budget bill. The difference between the two versions of the bill will need to be worked out when committee members meet in conference.


Mehney declined to comment on the likely effect of the proposed cut in the House bill, other than to note that previous cuts to the program’s budget request have caused delays and driven up the overall cost of the effort.


The House and Senate Appropriations committees have yet to mark up their versions of the 2009 defense budget.