What's Brewin' Column: Strange but true

Before the Army builds any system, it rigorously defines requirements to ensure stuff fielded to the troops works well and only essential items are included. One reason is to save grunts from having to tote extraneous gear on their already overloaded backs.

Defining requirements for the Army's troubled Future Combat Systems -- which has an estimated final price tagof $230 billion, which tops the annual gross domestic product of Norway ($216 billion) -- took a real skid when it came to a requirement for a robot that a soldier would carry on his or her back, called a man-packed robot, according to a report on FCS networks issued by the Government Accountability Office last week. Officials with iRobot told GAO that the Army has imposed a requirement that the 30-pound robot come equipped with a fire extinguisher.

Even small fire extinguishers -- such as the one in my house -- weigh more than 4 pounds. This seems like a lot of extra weight to add to a grunt load, which would include not only the robot, but body armor, personal weapons and multiple canteens of water. (Three full canteens weigh more than 6 pounds.)

I once toted a humongous load on my back as a Marine radio operator, and if someone told me I also had to hump around a four-pound fire extinguisher, I would apply good grunt logic and throw it away.

Maybe we should require the requirements folks to walk around for a week in the boondocks with all that they need to do their jobs strapped to their backs.

FCS Networks a Target?

The GAO report noted that the network supporting an FCS battalion would stitch together 5,000 nodes on more than 1,500 radios, all of which are emitting signals an enemy can listen to or hone in on for targeting purposes.

An intel pal of mine is horrified by this concept, as it broadly advertises the location of U.S. forces and invites attacks by a smart weapon. TheUnited States is far from being the only country in the world smart enough to field smart weapons.

The goods news is GAO has its doubts that the Army will ever be able to deploy the FCS network due to software problems, with the lines of code needed for the system now pegged at 95.1 million, an "unprecedented" amount for any Defense program in history, GAO characterized.

The report said, ""It is not yet clear if or when the information network, which is at the heart of the FCS concept, can be developed, built and demonstrated...."

That should solve the FCS emitter/target problem.

Navy Man Bites Air Force Satellite Dog

When top officials of the four services appear before congressional committees, they usually take pains to not take shots at each other. That's a wise move, or a hearing could end up a partisan food fight.

Rear Admiral Kenneth Deutsch, director of warfare integration in the Navy's communications networks office, broke this unspoken code of conduct on March 4 when he took some rather direct shots at Defense satellite programs managed by the Air Force.

Deutsch told the committee that satellite programs managed by the Air Force, which is the Defense executive agent for space, tend to shortchange Navy requirements and missions. "Without active Navy involvement today in ongoing deliberations over future satellite programs, the Navy risks operating in future scenarios with multibillion-dollar National Security Space systems suboptimized for the maritime environment, which is increasingly important as maritime domain awareness requirements are developed."

He told the hearing that "due to the long lead times involved, it is therefore critical that naval requirements and maritime missions be factored into the pre-launch design and planned in-orbit operation of all future satellite systems being considered for acquisition through the DoD executive agent for space.."

Deutsche said many satellite programs currently under development "face technological and budgetary hurdles, which could force future capability trade-offs affecting the maritime environment and could ultimately impact their utility to the Navy." He added the service intends to press its case with Defense leadership to ensure its "needs in space are identified, understood, resourced and protected."

How Deutsch will make this happen, I don't know. Maybe send a carrier battle group after the Air Force?

The Network is Only 49 Percent Chinese Owned

Last week in this space, I raised (again) concerns about the Army using a radio frequency identification network in Pakistan that is 51 percent owned by Lockheed Martin subsidiary Savi Technology and 49 percent owned by Hutchinson Port Holdings, a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa Limited of Hong Kong, which is controlled by Chinese billionaire Li Ka Shing. These concerns are heightened by the a Pentagon report that all but pinned a wave of cyberattacks last year against government networks around the world.

Air Force Lt. Col. Pat Ryder (congratulations on the promotion, Pat), a Pentagon spokesman, told me that the Army's Program Manager, Joint-Automatic Identification Technology (PM J-AIT) constantly reassesses the security of that network with Defense and Army information assurance policies.

Ryder, spokesman for the office for Defense Networks and Information Integration, said John Grimes, the Defense chief information officer, has "every confidence" that the Army appropriately addressed risk when it developed its information assurance strategy for the Pakistan network.

Ryder said PM J-AIT is satisfied that its contract with Savi Technology ensures the privacy of the unclassified RFID data that is collected from Savi Networks (the Lockheed Martin-Hutchinson joint venture network). According to PM J-AIT, their on-the-ground risk assessments have confirmed that as well.

Mark Nelson, a spokesman for Savi Technology, told me, "As validated by the U.S. Department of Defense, we're confident that logistics data from the Savi Networks RFID network in Pakistan is secure. Only the [Defense] customer has visibility of data from the network. Multiple information security best practices have been implemented, reviewed and are routinely monitored to ensure that stringent security protections are properly maintained."

OK, everything is hunky-dory with the Pakistan RFID network, but one part of the Pentagon seems mighty worried by Chinese activities in cyberspace and another isn't.

Am I missing something here?

Oh No, Not Another OIPT

Lynda Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for military personnel policy, and Kristin Day, chief consultant for care management and social work at the Veterans Affairs Department, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week that Defense and VA have banded together to develop a Web-based recovery plan for wounded service members and veterans, which will integrate a mess of information, including health records and data on support services and resources for health care providers and wounded soldiers and veterans.

They told the committee this would be done through-- that's right -- an Overarching Integrated Product Team -- or OIPT -- headed by top Defense and VA officials.

I get a sinking feeling every time I hear that an Overarching Integrated Product Team has been created to solve a problem. Defense seems to from OIPTs on a willy-nilly basis, when it fact it might be better to find one dedicated guy or gal to get the job dome -- fast -- without needing to learn the team song.