By Staff Sgt. Candice HarrisonNovember 22, 2013
MCGREGOR RANGE COMPLEX, N.M. - Approximately 40 Marines participated in communication systems evaluations during the monthlong Network Integration Evaluation 14.1 held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and surrounding training areas.
Evaluations were being done on the Joint Battlefield Command-Platform system, which is the upgrade of the existing Blue Force Tracker. It allows commanders and service members to track friendly forces and to enable communication between services.
Marine Maj. Stephen Musick, the project manager of the JBC-P Family of Systems, a Marine Corps Systems Command program, said the Marines have been involved with NIE, but to a limited extent, until now.
"This is not the first time we have been involved with NIE, but it is the first time we have had a significant number of Marines in play," said Musick. "We are participating in the Army scenarios ... we are working with [2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment]."
The Marines participating in NIE 14.1 understand the importance of the evaluations and what their roles mean to service members on future battlefields.
"We definitely don't want to just throw a new system that hasn't been tested out into the fleet," said Cpl. Kyle Denny, a light armored vehicle crewman with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Twentynine Palms, Calif. "If they do put it on vehicles that are going on deployment to Afghanistan or wherever, we want that system in full operation with all the bugs worked out before it is fielded."
Denny, a native of Detroit, who had been using the BFT regularly prior to arriving at NIE 14.1, said the new system decreases information latency, providing more accurate and timely situational awareness.
While the Marine presence at NIE is at its all-time high, their involvement will continue to grow. Maj. Tamara Campbell, product manager for digital fires and situational awareness, estimated 500 Marines will be on the ground next year for NIE 14.2, a battalion-sized element.
NIEs are held semi-annually to assess potential network capabilities in a robust operational environment to determine whether they perform as needed, conform to the network architecture and are interoperable with existing systems. The NIE ensures that the network satisfies the functional requirements of the force, and it relieves the end user of the technology integration burden.
As NIEs continue to grow, the scope and progress of the project are not lost on the participants.
"There has been a lot of detailed coordination, and a lot of good work going on," said Musick, "but we're going to finish strong here at the end of this week."