Initial findings from the Army’s latest Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) show steady progress toward improved, user-friendly tactical communications systems, as well as new efficiencies from the consolidation of test practices.
The Army is now reviewing early assessments from NIE 13.1, which concluded Nov. 17, and is planning for NIE 13.2, which gets underway in May 2013.
Observations from NIE 13.1 included a more stable network backbone, demand for a "mid-tier" networking radio for use by lower echelons, and better user collaboration through a common framework for operations and intelligence tools.
Several systems that participated in previous NIEs had incorporated soldier feedback into updated versions with software and hardware enhancements.
"With each NIE, we get better – the technology improves, soldier proficiency increases and we become more efficient in how we execute," said Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 Landwarnet-Mission Command Directorate.
Adding, "Doing these events every six months allows us to keep pace with technical advances and address new requirements and capability gaps as they arise."
During the month-long NIE event held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division evaluated five systems under formal testing and 21 under evaluation.
NIE 13.1 offered an early look at network enhancements that will be provided by Capability Set 14; it helped to integrate mobile network technologies on armored platforms such as the Stryker; it evaluated the requirements for a mid-tier radio within the network architecture; and hosted a formal test for Nett Warrior, a smartphone-like device that allows dismounted leaders to navigate terrain, exchange messages and digitally track one another’s locations.
NIE 13.1 was the fourth NIE conducted, and the Army continues to apply lessons learned in an effort to make each NIE more effective.
Through streamlined NIE testing practices, the Army has realized $86.2 million in cost avoidance and savings by evaluating multiple systems in an integrated setting, rather than holding multiple independent events, and by improving processes such as data collection and instrumentation planning.
Requiring all systems to go through a laboratory assessment and integration phase prior to NIE operations has also reduced NIE risk and cost.
"Doing a system-of-systems evaluation is what we’re driving toward, because that’s how we’re going to fight," Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commander of the Army Test and Evaluation Command, said.
Adding, "The beauty of this is we’re shaking off these systems stateside, not on the battlefield. And that’s saving money."
To date, the NIEs have also yielded more than $6 billion in overall programmatic cost avoidance.
Driven by soldier feedback, NIE lessons-learned have allowed the Army to restructure certain programs, terminate others, and re-allocate resources to other priorities – while providing more network capability more quickly to operational commanders.
Two brigades of the 10th Mountain Division are now training on Capability Set 13, the Army’s first fully-integrated communications package to emerge from the NIE process.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., will be the next to get the new gear starting early in 2013.
NIEs have not only allowed for soldier-driven evaluations and assessments of network technologies, they have also aided the Army in development of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) for using Capability Set 13 as a holistic network.
Training best practices for CS 13 systems – individually and as an integrated set – were also developed through the NIE.
The training is designed not just to make soldiers proficient on the systems within their individual specialties, but also to understand how those systems fit in with the rest of the brigade network structure.
"The value of the NIE lies in obtaining early soldier feedback to improve systems, integrate them as a complete Capability Set prior to fielding, and develop training and TTPs for the whole package – rather than testing and fielding individual technologies as was done in the past," Col. Rob Carpenter, Army director of System of Systems Integration, said.
Adding, "The key is to make sure this equipment is useable, trainable, supportable and sustainable."
The next NIE, 13.2, will focus on the continued solidification of the network baseline, including the Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2.
WIN-T Increment 2 is the backbone of the Army’s tactical network, providing key mission command on the move capability beyond what is available in today’s operational force.
The NIE construct will continue to expand in future exercises, including involvement by the joint services in 2014.
By utilizing a two-event process during each fiscal year, the Army will also leverage the NIE to help shape requirements, allowing for more targeted acquisitions.
Going forward, the Army will conduct the first evaluation to assess broad industry capability gap solutions, and then use feedback to validate and refine the requirement prior to additional targeted gap industry solicitation for participation in the second NIE.