PRESS RELEASE: One-of-a-kind Army lab aims to improve agile acquisition process
June 25, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The new laboratory hub for C4ISR integration was officially launched here today and will have the mission to ensure candidate systems for Network Integration Evaluations are integrated and field-ready prior to testing.
The C4ISR Systems Integration Laboratory, or CSIL, is the site for all lab-based risk reduction for systems prior to NIE. It provides a powerful resource that will be leveraged to identify and resolve bugs and ensure configuration settings and mission threads are validated prior to the field evaluation.
CSIL provides a simulated, advanced lab environment for engineers to assess, evaluate and integrate new capabilities onto current and next generation tactical networks.
"CSIL is the first chance where you are going to integrate new technologies as they are emerging, and enables the Army to get them into the Soldiers' hands earlier," said Joe Kobsar, chief engineer for CERDEC's Systems Engineering, Analysis, Modeling and Simulation division.
The concept for CSIL was formed in July 2011 as a way to help alleviate costs and find potential problems prior to field testing.
"We were seeing problems with integration and what was going on at NIE and knew we could help by building a lab where we can integrate and debug all of the products and determine the configuration settings for NIE prior to going out to White Sands Missile Range," said Scott Newman, Program Director, CERDEC Systems Engineering and Integration.
In previous NIEs, interoperability issues with capabilities had to be fixed on-site; increasing time and expenses.
"We saw that we were spending a lot of time and money out at NIE to fix problems that we can fix in the lab," Newman said. "We said, 'let's do the work here,' we have the facilities and we live here."
Fixing system integration problems on-the-ground required lengthy travel accommodations for Army engineers and prevented soldiers participating in NIEs from dedicating more time to their regular activities.
"CSIL is going to allow us to do all the configurations, all of the working out of the bugs, all those things that take money and hours of people being out in the field," Kobsar said.
In addition to reducing the time and costs associated with on-site troubleshooting, CSIL aims to ensure new technologies work not only as individual capabilities but also that they work in a tactical environment and are interoperable with the existing network.
"The CSIL enables us to take a look at system integration readiness, maturity and initial performance prior to the start of the NIE, we get an early look at how a system will integrate into the NIE network baseline," said Col. Daniel P. Hughes, Director of Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) System-of-Systems Integration directorate. "This is invaluable because it greatly eases the integration burden prior to a system arriving at Fort Bliss for hand over to the unit."
"The CSIL system defines a network system that's tailorable to meet the Conops of the warfighter," Kobsar said. "In other words, say there is one company out here and we need to test a system or a new technology that's going to provide support to the edge of the battlefield. We reconfigure it inside the laboratory and it's all virtual with some equipment from the programs of record."
CERDEC provides technical support to ASA(ALT) SoSI throughout the agile process to ensure the best possible products are available for NIE. In the Phases I and II, CERDEC evaluates white paper submissions and conducts standalone system evaluations to advise candidate selections and provide feedback to vendors about their product's readiness.
To do this, CERDEC leverages a variety of labs across its seven directorates and the APG campus to ensure rigorous evaluation by subject matter experts in their respective capability domains, Newman said. This effort is part of an innovative project team formed at APG that works closely with the ASA(ALT) SoSI.
"If a new product comes into us that we haven't seen before or isn't in any of these labs, I go to the right organization and say 'I need support, can you evaluate this product?'"
Each lab involved has its own infrastructure, test suite, test equipment and process for how they do evaluations. The lab assessments are used to inform the Army's choices on what systems will participate in the semi-annual NIEs and industry partners are provided with detailed "score cards" about how their technologies performed and what could be improved in the future.
Systems then enter Lab-based Risk Reduction where CSIL replicates the NIE network. During this phase, CERDEC works with industry partners to plug their systems into the actual NIE network architecture and determine any interoperability challenges prior to deploying to Fort Bliss.
And, based on CERDEC's existing work and their partnerships with other government organizations, the CSIL is able to utilize networks across the United States to suit the needs of capabilities that require connections not local to APG.
"The core set of equipment will be here but it's a hub. This lab is connected to all the other labs that participated in that particular NIE for the lab evaluations," Newman said.
"CERDEC has the technical expertise, personnel and facilities to conduct these types of assessments and integration," said Col. Hughes. "This is a partnership that works and is already proving its worth."