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High-Tech Weapons: A Loss Of Control?

The Pentagon may be ceding too much power to Boeing and other contractors

At the core of the Bush Administration's campaign to transform the U.S. Army into a leaner, more technologically advanced fighting force is something known as Future Combat Systems. A vast computerized network, FCS would link soldiers and commanders to a galaxy of sensors, satellites, robots, drones, and armored vehicles, both manned and unmanned. While debate rages over the military's performance in Iraq, the five-year-old FCS has sparked concern about whether the Pentagon is too eager to surrender control over complex weapons to the companies that design and make them—in this case, to Boeing Co. (BA )

In a little-noticed report issued on June 7, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, warned that Boeing's influence over FCS poses "significant risks to the Army's ability to provide oversight." Because of the program's complexity and cost, GAO auditors urged the Office of the Secretary of Defense to assume direct supervision. The projected bill for FCS through 2030 has already more than doubled, to $230 billion. Boeing would receive an undetermined fraction of that. The estimated price tag has ballooned even as former military officials and other experts question whether the ambitious program can accomplish its goal of allowing U.S. forces to cut through the confusion of battle.