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Research Questions

  1. What is the history of the FCS program?
  2. What were the successes, issues, and problems of the FCS program?
  3. What lessons can be learned from the FCS program?

The Future Combat Systems (FCS) program was the largest and most ambitious planned acquisition program in the Army's history. The FCS was intended to field not just a system, but an entire brigade, a system of systems, with novel technologies integrated by means of an advanced wireless network. Moreover, the FCS-equipped brigade would operate with new doctrine that was being developed and tested along with the materiel components of the unit. The FCS was central to Army modernization plans. In 2009, the FCS program was cancelled, and some of its efforts transitioned to follow-on programs. In 2010, the Army's Acquisition Executive asked RAND Arroyo Center to conduct an after-action analysis of the FCS program in order to leverage its successes and learn from its problems. This report documents the program's history and draws lessons from multiple perspectives, including the conditions leading up to the program, requirements generation and development, program management and execution, and technologies.

Key Findings

Program Background

  • Analytic capabilities are important to the success of large, complex acquisition programs. Sophisticated technology assessment and analysis capabilities are vital to the effective translation of new force concepts into viable acquisition programs.
  • Wargames are good at identifying issues for resolution, but they cannot be taken as validation of concepts. Wargamers should clearly identify assumptions being made and understand how important they are to any conclusions later drawn.
  • It is important to test technical and other key assumptions underpinning new Army concepts to identify issues crucial to program success.
  • Concept generation and exploration would benefit from increased deliberation, input, and consideration from across the Army. Enhanced work in concept development will entail increasing early interactions among concept developers, the technical community, and the acquisition community to reach consensus on what is possible from a performance, technical risk, and cost perspective.

Evolution of Cost, Schedule, and Performance

  • A succession of major changes made the FCS program difficult to understand and tough to manage, and in many ways this eroded internal and external support for the effort.
  • A concept of integrated, network-centric operational maneuver, spelled out in the Organization and Operation (O&O) Plan, shows how component systems and subsystems would interoperate in different types of warfare.
  • Cost estimations can be highly uncertain in large, novel programs and subject to various interpretations that can undermine program support.
  • Aggressive, unrealistic timelines do not benefit a highly complex large, system-of-systems acquisition programs.

Requirements Generation

  • Perhaps the most useful lesson from the FCS program was that its brigade-level perspective enabled useful approaches to designing concepts.
  • The O&O Plan for FCS was compromised by an overreliance on assumptions that the acquisition community could develop and integrate items using both evolutionary and unknown revolutionary technologies.
  • Requirements were not ranked hierarchically early enough, and system-level capabilities were not effectively subordinated to SoS-level ones.
  • FCS involved the largest integrated set of requirements the Army had ever developed, and it was extremely difficult to analyze and understand precisely how all of them would interoperate.
  • A bridge is needed between the O&O Plan and the operational requirements document to describe in greater detail how individual requirements are allocated and how they interoperate and interact to achieve higher-level functionalities.

Program Management

  • Large-scale integration and development projects require significant in-service integration and engineering capabilities.
  • Building brigade-level capabilities can enhance the ability to integrate systems into larger formations.
  • A strong acquisition capability will enable the services to assess industry performance in complex programs.
  • An emphasis on the integration of technologies and advanced concepts allows the enforcement of system-of-systems discipline and can curb parochial branch influences. Entrenched communities in the larger Army were evident in the FCS program, as challenges arose in enforcing SoS-level thinking on the community and communicating difficult problems through the chains of command.
  • Service visibility into and influence over subcontracting activities can foster competition and ensure commonality across platforms.
  • Consideration of and coordination with complementary programs across services can identify problems and enable mitigation strategies.


  • Government control over significant elements of the system of systems may make incentive fees inappropriate.
  • Programs with a combination of unstable requirements and complex integration are candidates for fixed or award fee contracts rather than incentive contracts.
  • Early commitment of incentive fee reduces the available fee late in the program when it might be more necessary.

Associated Technology

  • Significant technology development should not occur late in acquisition programs.
  • Documentation of the state of the art for each critical technology element will identify risk and areas for increased investment.
  • Alternative technology assessment metrics can supplement technical readiness levels, which may be inadequate for some aspect of system-of-systems acquisitions.
  • Including leading technical practitioners on internal review teams can help determine technology maturity and improve accuracy of team assessments.
  • Using system-of-systems requirements to identify complementary programs can help schedule synchronization issues.
  • Having too many connections to or being too highly dependent on outside programs can lead to significant risk.
  • Risk-mitigation strategies that incorporate system-of-systems engineering practices will facilitate risk mitigation across systems.
  • A shared modeling and simulation repository can improve the fidelity of mission-level analysis.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center.

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