FORT BLISS, Texas (October 26, 2015) -- The Network Integration Evaluation, better known as NIE, has a reputation of expediting Army modernization and enhancing technology to benefit Soldiers. The most recent NIE greatly expanded the scope of the exercise within a coalition environment, compelling those tasked with executing the event for the Army to face new challenges head-on.

The semi-annual, Soldier-led field exercises do more than modernize technology; they also aid process improvements. NIE 16.1, which concluded in October, specifically served as a proof-of-concept for the Army Warfighting Assessment (AWA), slated to begin next fall. To set conditions for the AWA, officials changed the current NIE scheme by adding new units and partner nations, removing program of record testing and conducting informal evaluations of a variety of capabilities that can enhance Soldier awareness while out in the field.

"The proof-of-concept for AWA that focused on network and non-networked capabilities without strict test parameters went extremely well," said Col. Terrece Harris, director, capability package, or CPD, which is a part of the Army's System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate. "For example, during an NIE test for record some of the cyber evaluation and assessment areas are very much controlled, but for AWA we found that even the cyber sector could share information that will lead units to be better prepared in cyber defense."

With the proof of concept came uncertainty in terms of planning, logistics, expectations, foreign participation and other areas. From an operational perspective, certain trials came to light in the moment during the event -- helping planners recognize how they can adapt in advance for the first true AWA.

"You can say you want to start planning early, but 'early' is all relative, depending on what you want to achieve," Harris said. "Now, we know what 'early' means in context of dealing with interoperability, coalition partners and the holistic network. Early means a year to 18 months out to establish ties and begin communication with external stakeholders."

The Army is now compiling NIE 16.1 results and analyzing Soldier feedback on concepts, prototypes and science and technology efforts in areas such as command post capabilities, operational energy, and robotics. Sharing such technologies with Soldiers early on, in an experimental environment, helps the Army incorporate improvements while reducing the development timeline and costs.

For instance, one of the technologies Soldiers assessed in the field is known as "Water to Air." Maj. Daniel Rodriguez, company commander, 542nd Quartermaster Company, explained how the technology can make drinkable water, among other uses for expeditionary operations.

"It is capable of making 500 gallons a day...(and) we are using it for shower water during this exercise, but it can be for potable water," Rodriguez said. "It goes through a charcoal filtering system and other filtering systems."

The experimental atmosphere of AWAs has already proven to be a platform for innovation. In addition to the increased number of technologies, there was heavy participation by foreign partners. A total of 13 North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries participated, including a Brigade Headquarters from the United Kingdom and an Italian airborne battalion. In addition to ensuring the interoperability of equipment between multiple countries, human interaction also came into play and team building was essential to successful mission execution.

"The UK brigadier had a great take on interoperability as a part of the human equation, which is ensuring not only that the equipment will work together, but so will we," Harris said. "Human interaction is the ability for us to come together as different countries and work together towards one common goal."

Such experiences demonstrate that the NIE/AWA concept does more than just evaluate technology -- it also informs how the Army will operate in the future, Harris said.

"The exercise was an excellent proof of concept for what we want AWAs to accomplish, and we learned several lessons along the way," he said. "As we go through and take a hard look on what went well and what we probably want to improve upon, the Army will be better postured for AWA 17.1 success in the upcoming year."