NCOs test new equipment, integrate tomorrow's network
January 11, 2012
The Army Test and Evaluation Command, Brigade Modernization Command, and the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology came together to play host to the Network Integration Evaluation 12.1 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in October and November.
NIE puts new equipment into the hands of the Soldiers and NCOs of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who test and help evaluate the equipment.
"Our Soldiers don't really have a dog in the fight," said Command Sgt. Maj. Antonio Dunston, command sergeant major of 2nd BCT. "Our dog is really just ensuring that the equipment actually works for the Soldier who is going to be downrange using it. So if it's bad, we get to tell them it's bad. If it's good, we get to tell them it's good. If it's halfway there and we just need to change some things, that's exactly what we get to tell them."
The feedback these Soldiers give to the exercise's lead agencies directly impacts the Army's acquisition and fielding of these new pieces of technology. Soldiers in the 2nd BCT had 45 systems under evaluation and two systems in the test phase this fall -- the Rifleman's Radio and the Soldier Radio Waveform Network -- to see if they are able to move to the next round of fielding this spring.
Sgt. Aidan Wood is a truck commander who has deployed to Iraq three times and tested the Joint Battle Command handheld equipment during the exercise. The testing phase requires Soldiers to gauge the limits of the equipment by putting it under extreme circumstances.
"Basically, we push it the furthest it can go," Wood said. "Then we bring it back and evaluate it."
The Army is trying a new way of doing business when it comes to acquiring, fielding and testing equipment. In the past, the Army put money, resources and technology into developing specialized systems to equip Soldiers. With budget cuts looming, the Army is now looking for a more efficient way, taking existing technology and tailoring it to meet the Army's needs.
Sgt. Kenneth Starnes said the benefit to giving the equipment directly to Soldiers at its initial state is that it enables them to provide prompt feedback.
"About 75 percent of what we test out here doesn't work, but about 25 percent is great," Starnes said. "And we get 30 days out here to train with it."
By having multiple network capabilities, the Army is looking at what works best and how each of the smaller networks can work together to provide connectivity to Soldiers on the battlefield. With the equipment directly in the Soldiers' hands, the lead agencies are able to put the prototypes through realistic scenarios that will stretch the limits of its technology.
"The warfighter is always going to perform the mission," Dunston said. "But what these systems do is they make it more efficient. They put him in a less threatening environment because of the capabilities they give him, rather than just put him out there by himself. So it just makes him much more efficient as a warfighter, because he's going to win anyway. He just wins a little easier without putting himself in harm's way."