FORT BLISS, Texas (April 10, 2014) -- With five short weeks to prepare for an Army test and field evaluation that involves mobilizing 3,800 Soldiers integrating more than 300 vehicles and conducting hundreds of hours of training, every day counts.

And just as the semi-annual Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) continue to evolve as a mechanism for driving forward tactical communications technologies, so too are the individual processes that make up the event.

When it came time to integrate the Army's next generation situational awareness capability, known as Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), onto 250 vehicles - more than in previous NIEs - Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) brigade and battalion communications sections took on the task by working with Project Manager (PM) JBC-P to ensure all necessary vehicles were integrated to support test initiatives.

This partnership included PM JBC-P performing the integration work on about half of the vehicles, which included Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP), Strykers and High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) platforms.

"This is what we do every day in countries where the Army operates around the world, install our equipment in their platform - so it made sense for us to do this," said Brian Aschle, fielding coordinator and PM JBC-P lead for the NIEs. "The PM worked hand-in-hand with the unit to affect something that works well for both of us."

This prep work ensures the vehicles are ready in time to be handed over to the unit to begin its validation exercise (VALEX), followed by formal testing at NIE 14.2 in May. It also increases unit involvement and familiarity with the systems, while improving coordination across several NIE stakeholders. As the Army continues to build on lessons-learned through each NIE, these processes are refined, becoming more efficient and effective.

In the past, the project manager would be required to track down each individual vehicle for integration - a daunting task that had installers traveling all over the sprawling Army base of Fort Bliss, Texas, which hosts the semi-annuals NIEs. This time, PM JBC-P took a more streamlined approach with the vehicles, saving both time and valuable resources.

By identifying vehicles early in the process and locating them in two specific motor pools, the unit and project manager could then focus on getting the platforms ready for the testing event.

"Brigade and battalion communication officers and non-commissioned officers had to understand their individual requirements, as their support would directly impact the success or failure of JBC-P integration," said Lt. Col. Ernest Tornabell, 2/1 AD brigade deputy commanding officer. "The combined understanding and effort made it possible to successfully integrate the JBC-P-equipped vehicles prior to validation week, a critical phase of NIE 14.2 exercise that enables all integrated vehicles to test their systems prior to field deployment."

Without the combined support from the brigade communications personnel and JBC-P field service representatives, the mission could have failed, Tornabell said.

When the loading of JBC-P software was complete, the vehicles were easily set up in a "ready line" allowing full access for the unit, project manager and field service representatives.

Aschle estimates the streamlined process saved at least seven or eight working days off of the typical prep time. With the vehicles set in motor pools, they were able to integrate and ready 20 to 30 a day.

"To come up with a plan we both benefited from was important. Now we don't have to chase the vehicles down and the unit doesn't have to be bothered with us always asking about each vehicle," Aschle said. "In the past we would set the vehicle up and the unit would take them for test. They weren't actively involved in what was happening to their vehicles and how we were doing the validation process prior to the test. Now they are."

JBC-P, a system under test at NIE 14.2, is the latest incarnation of the widely fielded situational awareness system known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below/Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT). Primarily used in vehicles, the next generation situational awareness capability helps reduce the "fog of war" by showing a complete picture of the battlefield so units can synchronize operations and reduce fratricide. JBC-P is backwards compatible with FBCB2, which is integrated on more than 120,000 platforms, resides in each Tactical Operations Center and is fielded or authorized to every brigade combat team in the Army.

NIE 14.2, the seventh in the Army's series of field evaluations designed to accelerate and improve the way communications technologies are delivered to Soldiers, will feature increased Joint and multinational participation in conjunction with the Joint Staff-led BoldQuest exercise. The VALEX and Communications Exercise (COMMEX) phase continues until mid-April, with the formal test kicking off in early May.

Since their launch in 2011, the NIEs have evaluated more than 170 systems and helped integrate, refine and validate Capability Set 13, or CS 13, the Army's first integrated network package providing mobile communications down to the dismounted Soldier.