10 March 2011

Future Combat Systems

I've often said that any program with the word "Future" in its name is doomed from the start, because if you're building a system for the Future, well, you'll never deliver it because the future never comes. We all live in the present. Two infamous examples are the Future Combat System and the Future Imagery Architecture (both were cancelled).

Seriously, what was the plan for those two once they were fielded? Were we going to change the name to the Present Combat System? Or how about Today's Imagery Architecture? Lame.

The thing is, these names reveal something about their purpose and design values. Calling something the Future X means we think it's going to be cool (eventually) as we fly around in our silver jumpsuits and jetpacks. It's also an explicit acknowledgement that the thing isn't relevant to today's activities. To borrow the old cliche, it's the system of the future... and it always will be.

But it occurred to me that in the FCS case, maybe the word Future wasn't the only problem. Maybe the word System was inappropriate as well.

See, FCS wasn't really building a system. It was a collection of largely immature technologies that were not ready for prime time. The FCS program was trying to bring these technologies together before they were actually usable, integrating things that had no business being integrated. The phrase "it's not soup yet" comes to mind. That's not how you build a system. That's building new technologies, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Just something to keep in mind on your projects. If you're building a fieldable system, it should consist of mature, proven technologies. If you're still messing around in the lab with breadboards, call it what ever you want, but don't call it a system.


Anonymous said...

The same goes for "Next Gen."

Another source was a core requirement:

“Design and integrate 18 major weapon systems and platforms simultaneously within strict size and weight limitations, while synchronizing the development, demonstration, and production of as many as 157 complementary systems with the Future Combat System content and schedule.” (This is an actual requirement)

Are you out of your mind???

Drew Duncan said...

I imagine a world where everything is made for the future. Sure, we can't have any cool products now, but imagine ten years from now, when we'll be...building products for the future. There's something messed up there but I can't quite put my finger on it.

The Dan Ward said...

Good call, Glen - "next gen" is right up there with "Future." Thanks for the FCS requirement quote. i'll definitely use that!

@Drew - Oh, I think you put your finger on it perfectly...