By Claire Schwerin, U.S. ArmyFebruary 24, 2012
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- The Army is removing barriers to small business participation and speeding up the feedback cycle in order to better facilitate industry participation in the Network Integration Evaluations, senior leaders said Feb. 23 during the Association of the United States Army Winter Symposium and Exhibition.
Leaders of the triad of organizations running the Network Integration Evaluations, known as NIEs, spoke at the Association of the United States Army Winter Symposium and Exhibition during a panel titled "The Agile Capabilities Lifecycle Process."
Leaders of the NIE Triad -- the Brigade Modernization Command, Army Test and Evaluation Command and System of Systems Integration Directorate under the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology -- stressed the critical role of industry partners in the Army's new approach to delivering integrated tactical communications technologies.
Summarized as "buy less, more often," the new strategy requires the Army to partner with industry to quickly develop, test and purchase capabilities that will incrementally modernize the network.
In response to industry feedback following the first two NIEs, the Army is now taking several steps to ensure participating companies see a tangible return on investment, the Triad leaders said. These efforts may include new dedicated funding to purchase and evaluate prototype systems developed by small businesses that cannot afford to produce large quantities on their own, as well as more quickly providing companies with assessment reports and Soldier feedback on their systems' performance.
The Army is also starting to buy technologies under the NIEs and Agile Process, the Army's new quick-reaction acquisition methodology to address defined capability gaps and insert new technologies into the overall network at a lower cost. In its first procurement action resulting from the NIEs and Agile Process, the Army issued a "sources sought" notice Feb. 17 for a single-channel, vehicle-mounted radio. Recently conducted NIEs confirmed an operational need for these radios.
"We're buying equipment at the end of this NIE process to make our network better incrementally," said Col. Dan Hughes, director of the System of Systems Integration Directorate. "The NIEs will continue to give industry the opportunity to inform the Army's requirements and Requests for Proposals, and gain valuable Soldier feedback for their systems in an operational context."
One example of the Army taking action to restructure requirements based on Soldier feedback and industry advancement occurred with the Nett Warrior program, said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of the Brigade Modernization Command.
Nett Warrior is a Soldier-worn mission command system that users deemed valuable but too bulky during the first NIE event in June 2011. Army leadership quickly restructured the Nett Warrior program to take advantage of the latest commercial technology, and a slimmed-down version of Nett Warrior received positive reviews at NIE 12.1 in November.
These changes yielded more than $800 million in cost avoidance and resulted in a more usable end product for the dismounted Soldier, to be delivered to more units on a faster timeline.
"That's a clear example of where we can bring in commercial solutions to meet requirements that we have, and do it cheaper and quicker," Dragon said.
Systems selected to participate in the semi-annual NIEs are evaluated by the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division during realistic operational scenarios at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas. Following the exercises, the Triad combines user feedback and test data to assess capabilities and determine their implications across doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel and facilities, known as DOTMLPF.
This information is reported to participating companies so they can gauge their technologies' performance and make any necessary adjustments. Following the next NIE 12.2 in May, those reports will be delivered within a matter of weeks, much sooner than for previous NIEs, the leaders said.
"We are making that feedback loop as fast as we can," Hughes said. "If you invest to come into the NIE, we should be able to get you that report fast enough so it's relevant for you."
The reports will still provide the thorough test details industry requires, said Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commanding general of the Army Test and Evaluation Command.
"There is a huge concentration on doing quality products quickly to meet the timelines," he said.
The Army also provides information to industry at an earlier stage in the Agile Process. Prior to receiving a field tryout with Soldiers, network capabilities must pass through the laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for technology evaluation, assessment and integration.
The lab assessments inform the Army's choices on what systems will participate in the NIE and provide detailed "score cards" to industry on how their technologies performed and what could be improved in the future.