FORT BLISS, Texas (November 5, 2018) - Elements of the Army's new network modernization strategy are on full display during the current Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 18.2 at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Over the next two weeks, Soldiers will test, assess and experiment with the latest mission command computing environments and server hardware, aspects of the Army's Integrated Tactical Network (ITN) concept, data radios, air-to-ground integration and a host of industry capability that could enhance network connectivity and capacity.
According to Brig. Gen. Johnny Davis, commander of the Joint Modernization Command, which manages the NIE, "the multi-domain operational concept guides everything we do in NIE." NIE 18.2 sets rigorous operational conditions, including contested domains such as cyber, unmanned air threats, electronic warfare, social media and peer-on-peer engagements to mirror current real-world threats.
In this environment, more than 1,900 Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division (3/82) are working to evaluate the Army's Command Post (CPCE) and Mounted (MCE) Computing Environments in an operational setting and will provide feedback on the usability of the ITN effort in a contested environment. Elements of the brigade are also serving as the opposing force during the exercise.
"NIE Soldier-driven feedback allows us to continue to enhance our design efforts," said Lt. Col. Shermoan Daiyaan, who manages the CPCE and MCE programs under the U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). "We embraced the [Developmental Operations] DevOps concept to make our systems better, and to enable the Army to evaluate potential technology concepts and solutions earlier and more frequently."
Feedback from NIE and prior lab-based and operational events has allowed developers to incorporate real-time operational feedback to help inform Network Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT) design choices and decisions, Daiyaan said.
The major test effort at NIE is the Initial Operational Test for the CPCE system. CPCE, part of the Army's Common Operating Environment (COE), is made up of a common software standard and tactical server infrastructure that decreases the amount of hardware in today's command posts, provides core software for applications to be written onto and provides commanders a true common operational picture.
CPCE and MCE are both intended to provide extensible data model and core services such as maps, chat and messaging to rapidly facilitate the integration of new applications and functions over time. The initial version of CPCE being assessed by Soldiers at NIE replaces four legacy mission command systems and enables web-based applications, meaning commanders and staff can access these apps using any authorized government laptop connected to the appropriate server and network.
"CPCE creates a shared understanding faster and we can be more lethal because of the collaboration," said Col. Arthur Sellars, commander of the 3/82. "It is web-enabled and intuitive."
CPCE test results will be used to determine if the initial version is mature enough to field in late FY19.
Airborne Soldiers are also testing the MCE and providing feedback to Army leaders, who will use the feedback to help select the best MCE core software that, over time, will replace the Joint Battle Command-Platform software -- the Army's current blue-force tracking, chat and critical situational awareness tool. Once the selection is complete, the program office will equip three units with MCE, which will serve as DevOps partners to complete MCE design decisions prior to Army-wide fielding.
While not under formal test, Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (1-508 PIR) are experimenting with the Integrated Tactical Network, a concept designed to address existing gaps in the current network architecture. The ITN is not a replacement for the Army's network; rather, it will be comprised of innovative commercial components and current network systems that will offer commanders multipath communications diversity and will interoperate with current network systems.
The ITN leverages a network environment allowing for the secure exchange of information through a unified yet diverse network -- taking advantage of both commercial and military transport to provide commanders multiple communications pathways in degraded environments.
One NIE 18.2 focus-area is using ITN components in a contested environment. As part of the ITN, Soldiers are utilizing both a Secret and a Secure but Unclassified (SBU) Network environment, allowing data to be categorized in accordance with its classification to simplify training and network initialization.
"Instead of self-limiting the unit to an encrypted-only network, SBU eases the burden of communication by providing other options," said Sgt. Jason Rosenberry of the 1-508 PIR.
Components of the ITN make use of familiar commercial handheld capability to reduce training.
"Soldiers are handed equipment that they have trained on since they were 10 years-old -- their cell phones," Rosenberry said. "That's the beauty behind the ITN concept."
NIE 18.2 ITN assessments and experimentation will help inform ITN design decisions and provide data for full N-CFT brigade-level assessments planned to begin next year.
Slated to conclude on November 12, this last Army NIE will provide instrumented technical data and Soldier feedback to enable the Army to make informed network design decisions for the CPCE and MCE programs. It will also provide feedback for continued DevOps of the ITN construct.
The Army plans to continue to leverage other training and test events such as the Warfighter Exercises and the Joint Warfighter Assessment to inform network requirements and modernization possibilities.
"We will continue to use the DevOps model with Soldiers versus the old way of developing something for five years before we test it," Daiyaan said. "It's critical that we continually provide them with capability that is better than what they currently have."