As the Army’s first brigade combat team deploys to Afghanistan with a suite of new communications gear that came together at the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, senior leaders met with industry to discuss how future NIEs will continue to drive technology forward.
The NIE 14.2 Industry Day, held June 25, emphasized the significance of the NIE process as the Army continues to improve and adapt its network to support Regionally Aligned Forces and Joint Task Force operations. The constant cycle of industry innovation will help ensure that the tactical network is tailorable and scalable to be responsive to commanders’ needs for any mission in any region, leaders said.
“This is where we need to partner so we are connected globally to not only ourselves, but our joint partners and international partners, so we can ‘fight tonight’ in a Joint Task Force,” said Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army’s Chief Information Officer/G-6, who gave the keynote address.
Reflecting that partnership, the event was the first NIE industry day to include foreign national vendors. In total, more than 140 industry representatives from businesses of all sizes took part in the event, where they received an update on the Army’s objectives for future NIEs, as well as initial observations from the most recent exercise, and toured several Aberdeen Proving Ground laboratories and integration facilities that support network modernization.
NIE 13.2, the fifth in the series of semi-annual evaluations designed to quickly grow the tactical network and accelerate and improve the way communications technologies are delivered to Soldiers, took place at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., May 4-27. More than 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, conducted operational tests and evaluations in realistic mission environments designed to measure network performance at all echelons.
“The network was very stable, and we were able to stretch that [brigade combat team] across 175 kilometers and still communicate,” said Brig. Gen. John Charlton, commander of the Brigade Modernization Command, which runs the NIEs along with the Army Test and Evaluation Command and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology System of Systems Engineering and Integration, or SoSE&I, Directorate.
However, there are still areas for improvement where industry partners can direct their efforts, including more mobile command post configurations, better integrated mission command systems and simplified training packages and user interfaces for Soldiers, Charlton said.
“You don’t want to have to read an instruction manual in the middle of a firefight,” he said.
NIE 13.2 executed the Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, the backbone of the Army’s tactical network, and continued to solidify the network baseline by evaluating an additional three systems under test and several industry and government systems under evaluation and demonstration. The next event, NIE 14.1, will take place this fall, followed by NIE 14.2 in spring 2014.
A Sources Sought notice seeking industry capabilities to take part in NIE 14.2, including 10 specific “capability gaps” that vendors can help fill, was released June 21, with responses due by July 10.
Along with joint and coalition participation, future NIEs will include missions that expand beyond counterinsurgency to Combined Arms Maneuver or Decisive Action. In order to evaluate the network’s support for potential operations in the Asia Pacific region, they will incorporate scenarios such as a Marine Corps expeditionary brigade doing forced entry to seize a simulated beachhead. The exercises will also concentrate on networking Stryker and Infantry brigade combat teams and on putting dismounted operations “under the microscope” to see how the network empowers the small unit down to the individual Soldier.
This “incremental” network modernization approach is the foundation of the NIEs, which began in June 2011, in order to integrate, improve and validate the Army’s tactical network, a top modernization priority. The Army has used the NIE process to align several key network Programs of Record and has purchased non-Programs of Record industry systems for fielding following the NIE.
By assessing network capability and providing Soldier-driven operational feedback, NIEs have allowed the Army to conduct an integrated fielding of Capability Set 13, known as CS 13, an advanced, mobile communications network that is integrated across the BCT formation, to select units preparing for potential deployment. CS 13 equipment is now arriving in Afghanistan to support the deployment of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, which will use CS 13 in mobile, dispersed operations supporting the Afghan National Security Forces.
“The NIE helps us integrate a complex architecture, get feedback quickly from Soldiers and reduce our risk on both sides, for government and industry,” said Terry Edwards, SoSE&I director. “It gives us the opportunity to change traditional acquisition practices and helps us validate the capability sets that we’re sending to the field.”
At the same time, Edwards and other senior leaders said, the Army is continually refining the NIE process in response to industry feedback. Col. Aaron Webster, Synchronization division chief in the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet/Mission Command Directorate, said the Army is now aligning its NIE capability gaps to its overall network modernization strategy farther in advance of each NIE event, so industry can better target its research and development investments.
“We really need industry to help us with this technology that’s coming fast and furious,” Webster said. “We know you have to scrutinize your dollars as well.”