By Drew HamiltonSeptember 13, 2011
FORT BLISS, Texas, Sept. 13, 2011 -- Representatives from both large defense corporations and smaller business entities came to Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Sept. 8 to learn about the Army's network strategy, Network Integrated Evaluations, or NIEs, and its new agile acquisition process.
Industry day, hosted by Program Executive Office Integration, known as PEO I, and other organizations paramount to the success of the NIEs -- including the Brigade Modernization Command, or BMC, and the Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC -- demonstrated to the nearly 180 attendees the pivotal role NIEs play in the Army's emerging network strategy, and the critical role industry plays in this process.
The NIEs are a series of semi-annual evaluations designed to integrate and mature the Army's tactical network. By combining these events at White Sands/Fort Bliss, the Army is able to synchronize formal testing using one composite Brigade Combat Team -- 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- the unit dedicated to performing operationally relevant tests and evaluations. The Army no longer has to tap into many different units for the tests -- it has a single test brigade dedicated to the effort.
During Industry Day, representatives from the 60 plus companies who will support future NIEs got a first-hand look at how industry involvement in the development of networked technology is critical to this strategy, designed to leverage industry innovation and standards. Engineers and project managers learned more about the Army's acquisition process, fostering a greater understanding of the role their technologies will play in the NIEs and what they will undergo during testing.
PEO I represents a major Army stakeholder in the acquisition of new technology as it continues the management of the Agile Process/NIE Process. The network, which underwent six weeks of rigorous testing and evaluation at WSMR during the first NIE this June and July, is expected to become a kind of mobile, wireless Army internet. It will allow unit commanders, dismounted Soldiers and vehicles on-the-move to share information, navigate and control battlefield systems -- while providing enhanced communications between all echelons of a Brigade Combat Team.
The Army has a requirement to both speed up its acquisition of new technology while reducing the cost of developing and testing such capabilities. The NIEs allow for operational style testing early on in the acquisition process. Putting these networked capabilities in the hands of Soldiers in the field for evaluations helps synchronize and streamline the evaluation and feedback approach -- allowing for more usable test data and direct user feedback to the acquisition community.
Ultimately, this approach will help avoid potential costly system changes in later stages of development or even production.
Industry representatives were taken to various 2/1 AD motor pools and to network integration facilities on WSMR. At each location the visitors got to talk with Soldiers about the vehicles and weapons they use. Army engineers responsible for integrating new systems into the vehicles also spoke directly with the visitors and discussed the physical requirements of integrating new systems into the vehicles, as well as potential space, power and environmental challenges faced.
"This is a very unforgiving terrain. Between the dust, wind, the heat and the cold this environment will chew equipment up and spit it out," said Maj. Gen. Bartley, commander of PEO I.
With the NIE process, the Army will be able to save both time and money by avoiding the drawn out development period the acquisition community has endured for years.
"The technology is moving so fast, we need to speed up our ability to get this technology in the field, that's what this whole agile process is about," said Col. Dan Hughes, director for integration with PEO I.
The Oct/Nov NIE will involve nearly 3,800 Soldiers and 1,000 vehicles of the 2/1 AD. This NIE's primary purpose is to continue required evaluations in support of Program of Record milestones and advancing integration and understanding of the objective and bridge Army network architectures. It will also begin to establish the Objective Integrated Network Baseline, common connectivity across the Brigade Combat Team structure, and introduce industry participation in the NIE evaluation cycle.
This second NIE will build off lessons learned from the June and July NIE evaluation in order to support the Army's holistic focus to integrate network components simultaneously in one operational venue.