Army officials hosted more than 120 industry representatives at the Network Integration Evaluation 12.2 last week to show available facilities, answer questions and encourage industry participation in future exercises.
The June 1 event marks the first time that the Army formally invited industry partners to observe a portion of an ongoing Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE. NIEs are semi-annual events designed to further integrate and rapidly mature the tactical communications network. The NIEs, a part of the Army’s Agile Process to rapidly field network technoligies, will allow the Army to field “capability sets” of equipment that provide integrated connectivity from the command post to the dismounted Soldier, and update that equipment on a two-year cycle to reflect improvements in technology and changes in operational needs.
As the Army moves to field Capability Set 13 beginning this October, the service will further condense the acquisition cycle in order to fill any gaps in the network, senior leaders said.
“You’ll see some very quick procurement of specific items,” said Col. Dan Hughes, director of Army System of Systems Integration, or SoSI, speaking to industry. “We are trying to make it much faster from when we see something to when we execute.”
The six-week NIE 12.2, which has concluded this week, allowed the Army to validate and finalize Capability Set 13 in a realistic operational environment leveraging the 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The 2/1 AD, through the Brigade Modernization Command, or BMC, provides candid feedback about network technologies – input that the Army can then use to make doctrinal recommendations.
Industry participants represented more than 40 companies, and approximately 45 percent came from small businesses. They met with Soldiers from 2/1 AD who discussed the role and structure of the brigade, as well as the harsh environments and vast distances that systems face at NIE.
“We were probably, tooth to tail, (stretched) about 170 kilometers,” said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, BMC commander. “The unit was spread that far conducting real tactical operations.”
If a system does not show operational value in those conditions, explained Capt. Steven Rendon with 2/1 AD, Soldiers will be reluctant to use it.
“Does it actually bring something to the fight, not just an extra piece of gear we’re carrying around?” he said.
In addition to tactical locations, attendees also toured integration facilities where network systems are installed and configured on military vehicles. They learned about the NIE trouble-ticketing process, as well as how industry field support representatives interact with “trail bosses,” a group of Army acquisition officers and civilians who serve as a link between 2/1 AD and the Triad of organizations that manage the NIE: SoSI, BMC and the Army Test and Evaluation Command.
Lt. Col. Erik Webb, who oversees the trail bosses for SoSI, said the up-front integration that takes place in the Integration Motor Pool prior to the start of NIE operations reduces risk for both the Army and industry partners.
“The more we can do in that motor pool, the better we will operate in the field,” Webb said.
Industry Day attendees said the experience and information exchange was valuable, and praised the Army for seeking to add commercial technologies to its network baseline.
“NIE gives you the opportunity to see how capability that works in the commercial sector can be used in the military environment as it is now, or what has to be modified for it to be operating in a military environment,” said Joe Marinich of Mutualink, a company that developed one of several systems the Army selected to participate in laboratory assessments for NIE 13.1, which will take place this fall. “There’s been no ‘We invented it here’ (attitude) within NIE — it’s an openness to say, ‘If you’ve got something that we haven’t looked at, we’re open to hearing about it.’”
Industry systems enter the NIEs through the Agile Process, the Army’s new quick-reaction acquisition methodology to address defined capability gaps and insert new technologies into the overall network at a lower cost. Companies respond to a “sources sought” notification, and then must pass through laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for technology evaluation, assessment and integration. The lab assessments inform the Army’s choices on what systems will participate in the semi-annual NIEs and provide detailed “score cards” to industry on how their technologies performed and what could be improved in the future.
As a result of industry feedback, the Army is committed to ensuring that NIE assessment reports and laboratory feedback is provided within a matter of weeks from the end of the NIE evaluations.