By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 14, 2008) -- The Army Evaluation Task Force at Fort Bliss, Texas, is "making Future Combat Systems happen," said the outgoing FCS program manager.
Maj. Gen. Charles Cartwright has served as the program manager for FCS since June 2004 and will retire from the Army in December. He will be replaced by Maj. Gen. John R. Bartley, now program executive officer for combat support and combat service support.
During his last public address concerning FCS, Cartwright said the AETF is at the very center of FCS's developmental success.
"It wouldn't be possible without the help of the AETF task force," Cartwright said during a Nov. 11 presentation sponsored by the Association of the United Sates Army. "They really are the heart and soul, and really have become the brains of the FCS program. It's been amazing watching (them) in the two years since they have stood up and the capabilities they now have down there."
The AETF, also known as 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, includes many combat-veteran Soldiers tasked to test and evaluate the ease-of-use and efficacy of Army equipment. The Soldiers in the AETF have been to theater and know what is needed there and how the equipment they have been asked to test will be received by Soldiers in combat, Cartwright said. He said what they provide to the developers of FCS is combat-proven insight and knowledge about how to improve new Army systems.
"They are not only testing it, they are helping me do design iterations on this equipment," Cartwright said. "We are designing equipment based on what they are telling me they want it to do in combat -- not a defense contractor and not a guy like me in the acquisition career -- but based on what they want it to do in combat."
The general said in the last two years, major design changes have been made to the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle as a result of evaluation by AETF. Additionally, more than 500 changes have been made to FCS software due to AETF suggestions.
"I waited a long time for the AETF," Cartwright said. "What they are giving us in the design world we have never had before. That concept of the AETF is key to how we build the future. It includes how do we build the network, how do we build platforms and how do you fight, including what are the tactics and techniques. The AETF is really the key to how do we build toward the future."
In the four and a half years he's served as the program manager for FCS, Cartwright said the biggest challenge he's faced has been the integration of the many programmatic phases of the FCS program, while at the same time continuing to actually produce equipment.
"There are a lot of things you have to do when you manage a program -- political, budgetary, programming, what do you build, what don't you build," he said. "It is keeping everybody executing -- focused on delivering the equipment, that is challenging."
For the new PEO of FCS, Cartwright has one word of advice: "execute."
"We will go though national defense policies, and strategies, and the Quadrennial Defense Review -- meanwhile the program is still building," Cartwright said. "Congress fully funded you in FY09 and they expect us to execute, and that's what we are going to do."