Army leaders praise new 'agile' approach to tactical network
Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, were encamped near a "mountain village" to evaluate networked capabilities in realistic terrain during the Army's first Network Integration Exercise in June-July at White Sands Missile ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2011) -- The Army's new approach to rapidly maturing the tactical network through semi-annual field exercises is already forcing positive change, senior leaders said during the service's signature information-technology forum last week.

Army leaders used the annual LandWarNet Conference to update industry partners on the Network Integrated Evaluations, or NIEs, a series of events at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas, designed to integrate networked technologies while measuring their performance based on realistic missions and conditions. The leaders provided lessons-learned from the first such event, which concluded in July, as well as the Army's vision for the next events to be held in October and in the spring of 2012.

"We knew we had to shock the system," said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Battle Command Directorate. "This is a fundamental change in the way we're going to deliver network capabilities to our Army. We get a chance to evaluate the capability by putting it into the hands of our Soldiers early and often."

He said industry will be "absolutely critical" as the Army moves forward with the agile process, the quick-reaction acquisition methodology to address capability gaps and insert new technologies into the overall network. The first round of the process has already led to more than 50 different developmental and emerging systems being chosen for evaluation during the October-November event. That is up from 35 systems that participated in June-July.

The next round of agile process guidance to industry on the Army's top network priorities is expected to be issued in September, said Col. John Wendel, deputy program executive officer for Network Integration at the Program Executive Office Integration. The Army is also working to "fundamentally change" its existing acquisition and requirements processes in support of the speed and goals of the NIEs, Wendel said.

Preparations for the October event, known as NIE 12.1, are well underway on the ground with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, which has more than 3,800 Soldiers dedicated to the NIE mission. Applying lessons-learned from the first NIE, more network integration work is also taking place in facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., prior to taking the technology to White Sands.

This approach gives Soldiers a solution where systems function together seamlessly, said Jennifer Zbozny, chief engineer for the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, the network lead organization for the NIEs.

"What we have to stop doing is turning our network upside down, sending things into theater and having our Soldiers be the test bed when they're trying to fight a war," said Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army's Chief Information Officer/G6, who called replicating the operational network through NIEs an improvement to that scenario. "This is the solution."

By placing both official Army program of record capabilities and other non-program of record technologies in Soldiers' hands simultaneously and earlier in the evaluation cycle, the Army can more rapidly incorporate user feedback. This ultimately leads to quicker fielding of integrated solutions that represent the latest technology being sent to the field, the leaders said.

A t riad of organizations -- the Brigade Modernization Command, Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, and PEO Integration -- is charged with assessing network and non-network capabilities and determining their implications for the force.

The October NIE will leverage the network end state from July as the baseline for additional technologies, while relying on core current and next-generation systems such as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, the Joint Tactical Radio System, or JTRS, and the Joint Capabilities Release, or JCR, of Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below/Blue Force Tracking, which is known as FBCB2/BFT.

"We're going to start establishing that integrated network baseline, which will allow the Army to quickly adjust based on operational needs and leverage innovation from industry with established standards," Morrison said.

The network architecture includes terrestrial satellite systems, vehicle-mounted networking radios that pass data as well as voice communications, an aerial tier of radios attached to Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UAS, and a commercial 3G network to evaluate smartphones. In October, networking capabilities will be operating within a variety of relevant operational scenarios, including close air support with UAS, medical evacuation helicopters, and convoy operations, officials said.

These and other vignettes will generate more valuable Soldier feedback and reduce risk for the spring 2012 NIE, which Wendel described as the "pivotal" event for solidifying the Army's network Capability Set 13/14.

That capability set, slated to be fielded to eight Brigade Combat Teams beginning in 2013, will include much greater bandwidth to transmit voice, video and data across the battlefield, as well as bring situational awareness and mission command information down to the dismounted Soldier, Zbozny said.

The second increment of WIN-T, which will be informally evaluated at this fall's NIE and will undergo an official test in the spring, will also deliver on-the-move network communications down to the company level, she said.

Through the capability set and NIE approach, the Army has overhauled its traditional methods of providing networked technologies, yielding benefits for Soldiers today and into the future, Morrison said.

"We've redefined incremental modernization," he said.

(Claire Heininger Schwerin writes for PEO C3T and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.)

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