FORT BLISS, Texas (July 29, 2015) -- Fort Bliss, Texas, is a hub for Army technological innovation. This fall, it will not just be the technology that is innovative; but also the event in which new technologies will be reviewed.

The Army Warfighter Assessment, known as AWA, has evolved as a complement to the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE.

"NIE 16.1/AWA is really a proof of concept and will lay the foundation for the Army for these events," said Col. Terrece Harris, director, capability package directorate, whose organization integrates and prepares the Army's network for NIEs and AWAs. "We'll use the 16.1 event to become more efficient and better postured for future AWAs."

As a proof of concept, this fall's assessment will also be critical in determining the path and scope of AWAs, as well as ensuring feasibility and sustainability of requirements concepts, Harris said.

The Army has conducted semi-annual NIEs since 2011, leading to the fielding of integrated capability sets of tactical vehicles, network and mission command equipment to units from the 10th Mountain, 101st Airborne (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne, 1st Armored, 2nd Infantry, 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions.

Over time, as technology and the NIE process matured, the Army decided to split it into two events. Going forward, each year the Army will hold one NIE, focused on testing and evaluation of network programs of record to continue to meet testing requirements and validate yearly capability sets for delivery; and one AWA, which will provide a more experimental environment to help shape requirements, with an emphasis on joint and multinational interoperability.

"The AWA was built to mimic the NIE process," said Michael Jacobs, deputy of the Brigade Modernization Integration Division for Brigade Modernization Command. "The AWAs are Training and Doctrine Command [TRADOC]-based. The things that we bring in to evaluate are concepts and capabilities that our Centers of Excellence provide us since they have not been able to evaluate them on their own."

NIE 16.1/AWA will build upon the Army's technology and integration progress from NIE 15.2, and will be followed by NIE 16.2 taking place next spring. While the NIEs have strict testing and evaluation procedures, the AWAs will be more flexible and will allow the assessment of additional capabilities to help shape requirements concepts.

"We are conducting five concepts here during this AWA, which have not been able to be exercised at a Centers of Excellence because of their scope," Jacobs said. "Since we offer an entire brigade plus, and we have a headquarters division, we offer the opportunity and the environment to do those types of concept explorations."

Rather than exploring the concepts in simulation, the AWAs will place the concepts in a field environment with an elevated chain of command and an expansive setting between Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. With this type of environment, TRADOC hopes to obtain greater insight into how new concepts could meet objectives within the Army Warfighting Challenges.

Unlike traditional NIE events, the AWA will not have Soldiers evaluate systems under test for imminent fielding decisions, but instead will give TRADOC an idea of what equipment the Army would like to see in the future for modernization. In essence, the AWAs will be a platform to provide concepts that may reduce capability gap areas, especially in decreasing the threats Soldiers face.

"We will see concepts mature over multiple AWAs rather than just one AWA," Jacobs said. "Right now, we are not sure if our systems can pick up everything or if we have the right technology, but the path is there, and we will extend the road. So you will see them again as surrogates, prototypes and eventually the real equipment."

Both events will focus on end states for Soldiers, with the chance that the technology being assessed at AWAs may eventually move on to official testing at NIEs.

At NIE 16.1/AWA this fall, Soldiers will be able to try out equipment including ground and airborne-based systems. Some of the systems will be non-network related, ranging from capabilities in an expeditionary base camp to those used within command post areas. There will also be unmanned type systems to preserve Soldier resources and prevent the Soldiers from being in harm's way.

"NIE events are very structured along the lines of trying to prepare a network that will be utilized by a program of record for test purposes, and with that structure comes a lot of limitations as far as testing out any other new capabilities," Harris said. "With AWAs you won't have any official structured tests, therefore we can look at capabilities, networked and non-networked, without worrying about test structures."

Looking at more capabilities may lead to the discovery of equipment that eventually add value to the Army's modernization plans. While not straying away too far from the NIE construct, the new environment of the AWA will provide a venue for the TRADOC community to refine, modify or develop modernization requirements, officials said.