The Army has begun the second of a planned biannual series of Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) examining a series of network and non-network capabilities in realistic scenarios to see how they work in the real world and how they would fit in and work across the service, officials said.

The network is the Army's number one modernization priority, and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli has said he believes a network will make the service more "lethal, faster and survivable."

"The two most important things that characterize (NIE 12.1) are giving the individual soldier access to the network and providing mission command on the move down to company level," said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, deputy commanding general Futures, and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

NIE 12.1 is a cooperative effort, linking together users, testers and developers--the Brigade Modernization Command, under Walker's purview, the Army Test and Evaluation Command and the System of Systems Integration (SoSI) Directorate under the assistant secretary of the Army, acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA (ALT)).

"We've opened the door, industry has actually looked and said actually, this is not a bad process," Col. Daniel Hughes, director of the SoSI Directorate, said in a recent interview. "But you know, the proof of the pudding in this, though, is buying the materiel. So when I bring an industry partner in, we get an evaluation at the NIE, we know that if we don't buy something out of this, they're going to lose interest. Because that's (internal research and development) IRAD money. That's money they spent. That's their money. So we're looking to make sure we can shorten that procurement piece at the end."

NIE 12.1 focuses on soldiers. The initial July 2011 NIE found the service lacks soldier-level connectivity and unit mission command capabilities, which will need requirements. Once those are developed, the Army will have common criteria to evaluate hand-held and other mission command solutions that can be evaluated in future NIEs.

Among the nearly 50 capabilities under evaluation in NIE 12.1 are radios to connect soldiers to each other, units and higher echelons.

For example, the General Dynamics [GD] Rifleman radio initial operational test is part of the evaluation.

One system under evaluation is the General Dynamics' WIN-T Increment 2, providing communications on the move. Specifically, there are three Tactical Communication Network (TCN), three Point of Presence (POP) and 10 Soldier Network Extension (SNE) vehicles that provide on-the-move capabilities.

Two such Oshkosh [OSK] M-ATV vehicles were on display in Washington, D.C., last month.

There is also a TCN and POP with the HQ 2nd Brigade 1st Armor Division; a TCN, a POP and five SNE with 1-1 Cavalry Squadron and a TCN, POP and five SNE with 1-35 Armor Bn.

The other brigade battalions are using their WIN-T Increment 1 assets. However, they are communications infrastructure not systems under test or evaluation.

The event also is doing a comparative assessment of the Harris [HRS] AN/PRC 117G radio.

Nearly 3,800 soldiers and 1,000 vehicles of 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Div. (2/1AD) are participating Oct. 31-Nov. 19 evaluation in wide ranging scenarios at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Ft. Bliss, Texas. Part of the evaluation is to determine how the capabilities impact doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities (DOTMLPF).

The NIE soldiers are conducting those required evaluations supporting programs of record. Their work also will start to outline the Objective Integrated Network Baseline. And, the NIE is the place for industry efforts to fill Army-identified capability gaps.

While soldiers are in the field now, much important work took place earlier. For example, soldiers were trained on how to use the equipment properly so it could be fairly evaluated. Also, equipment was integrated as early in the process as possible, something that had been left to deployed soldiers, sometimes resulting in equipment not being used at all--something learned from a decade at war, when equipment was often rushed to the field. Soldiers sometimes left the new equipment in boxes due to the complex and time-consuming integration needed.

The results of the evaluation will help shape the Army's network Capability Set 13, equipment and changes that will be fielded to eight brigade combat teams starting in fiscal year 2013. An additional 10 brigades will receive the latest network assets as part of Capability Set 14.

The next NIE, 12.1, will take place in spring 2012 focusing on solidifying the network baseline with the formal addition of WIN-T Increment 2, the Army's on the move satellite based network connectivity.