Fort Bliss, Texas (September 28, 2015) -- The Army kicked-off its Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 16.1 on September 25, ushering in a new era for the Soldier-led evaluations held at Fort Bliss, Texas and White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

Once NIE 16.1 concludes on October 8, it will move from a semi-annual event, to an annual event, sharing time with the new Army Warfighting Assessments (AWAs). Together, the two exercises will help modernize, develop and refine the Army's tactical communications network.

"This is the final proof of concept for AWA and first time we set up a coalition network to assess our joint interoperability amongst all those multinational partners," said Brig. Gen. Terry McKenrick, commanding general of the Army's Brigade Modernization Command (BMC). "Overall it is a very dynamic exercise, the largest operational exercise the Army will conduct this year. Not only will we assess the systems, but (this exercise) will increase the readiness of all those units going through the training."

NIE 16.1, features more than 9,000 Soldiers, 14 partner nations including a United Kingdom brigade headquarters, 300 platforms and 20 command posts. Set up as a Coalition Joint Task Force structure, the exercise is supported by live and simulated brigade units, as well as partner nations.

For a second year the Bold Quest exercise, a collaborative joint and multinational capability demonstration and assessment sponsored by the U.S. Joint Staff, is aligning with NIE. A focus of both NIE 16.1 and Bold Quest is establishing a coalition network. An enabling piece in connecting the forces is the tactical network enabled Multilateral Interoperability Programme or MIP, which provides a common operational picture and interoperability of command and control systems for the joint and multinational participants in the respective command posts.

"We have this coalition network, for the first time connecting all the forces, including all the joint and multinational partners in the same network," McKenrick said.

After establishing a network baseline at previous NIEs, the Army is now looking at an expeditionary and scalable network with operational flexibility and adaptability. Designed to keep pace with rapid advances in communications technologies and deliver proven and integrated network capabilities to Soldiers, NIE 16.1 will assess expeditionary command posts, coalition network capabilities, mission command on the move and early entry capabilities. It is also serving as the final proof of concept for the new AWAs, large scale events that will begin in Fiscal Year 2017.

As the Army transitions to a regionally aligned force that responds to unexpected contingencies in partnership with joint and coalition forces, exercises such as the NIEs, AWAs and Bold Quest will help inform more mobile, scalable and expeditionary network capabilities.

"Why is it so important to get it right here? Because no one is firing real bullets at us," said Col. Charles J. Masaracchia, 2/1 AD brigade commander. "It gives us the ability to stop what we are doing and go back and say where was the single point of failure, what could we do better?"

NIE 16.1 included an opposing force that can bring with it any threat, including armor, chemical, cyber, conventional or unconventional. Its mission is to interject the challenges an Army unit will face during an actual battle.

"The greatest threat that I face as a brigade commander on the battlefield is not tanks, Bradleys, snipers or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), it's the threat to computer network operations - cyber defense," Masaracchia said. "My decisive point in this operation is what you will see in the back room (of the command post), which is securing all of that and not allowing the enemy to get inside of it."

Through the NIE process, the Army has integrated, validated and refined network capabilities and technologies that provide improved mission command and network connectivity from the command post to vehicles on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier. The NIEs produce Soldier feedback to inform the Army on what systems should be procured, and serves to ensure that the systems work together as an integrated communications package for commanders.

The NIEs also help to inform the Army as it develops Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, known as TTPs, that layout how to field, train, operate, maintain and sustain network capabilities.

Going forward the Army will hold one NIE each year, focused on testing and evaluation of network programs of record to meet testing requirements and validate the Army's capability sets for fielding. The annual AWA will provide a more experimental environment used to shape requirements and develop capabilities for the future force.

"AWA tests ideas that are not part of a very stringent test and evaluation process," McKenrick said. "AWA helps streamline our acquisition process, making sure that prototypes can be improved, and it gives us an opportunity to then bring them into the test and validation process."