The U.S. Army is bringing coalition partners into its future tactical communications network through the Network Integration Evaluation process.
During a risk reduction event held last month at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the Army demonstrated the ability to share information at the company level across the various mission command systems used by the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
The laboratory assessment will feed into the Army’s execution of the Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs, a series of semi-annual, soldier-driven field evaluations designed to further integrate and mature the Army’s tactical network, and accelerate and improve the way network technologies are delivered to soldiers.
To date, the NIEs have focused on establishing an integrated network baseline that links all echelons of the brigade combat team from the static tactical operations center to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier. Future NIEs will connect partner nations to that network.
“The NIE will allow us to evaluate communications solutions for coalition forces in a realistic operational environment, and quickly improve them based on Soldier feedback,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes, director of Army System of Systems Integration, or SoSI. “By using the Aberdeen Proving Ground network labs, we get an early look at potential solutions in preparation for future NIE operational exercises, and allow the coalition partners to share lessons-learned on both technology capability and integration challenges.”
The demonstration scenario required the Army to transmit messages between company command posts for each nation, using industry radios that are under evaluation as part of the NIE. The goal was to combine the information from each country’s mission command technology into a shared commander’s vision of the battlefield, so “(you’re) seeing the same picture I’m seeing,” said C.A. Aiken, a senior systems engineer for the Canadian National Defence Department.
The scenario reflects the reality of circumstances faced by partner nations in theater today, where the force elements they contribute may be task organized at levels far lower than previously envisioned and yet need to communicate with one another directly and dynamically, said British Army Lt. Col. Philip Deans, SoSI international embedded officer. Performing such tests helps determine “how to be interoperable using our native systems, thereby reducing training times and removing costs,” he said.
Senior representatives from the visiting nations said the event offered an opportunity to collaborate on budget and requirements challenges as well as on innovative technology. They expressed interest in the Army’s new Agile Process approach to acquisition, which is designed to procure critical capabilities in a more rapid, cost-effective manner by soliciting mature solutions from industry, then integrating and evaluating them at NIE.
The strategy of integrating network technologies earlier in the development cycle will pay dividends not only for the U.S., but across the coalition, said Brigadier Barry Neil McManus, Australia. “The ability for us to do this from the start of an opportunity is the very clear emphasis here,” he said. “It’s activities like this that bring us closer and closer together.”