FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- The Army is working diligently toward fundamentally changing the acquisition system, making it faster and better aligned to warfighter needs. Using what officials call the "Agile Process," the Army believes it will better be able to keep pace with industry and technological advances. This would accelerate the pace of network modernization to a rate unachievable by traditional acquisition strategies.

The intent of the Agile Process is to procure and integrate systems that meet an operational need or gap and demonstrate success, primarily through Soldier-led evaluations during biannual Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs.

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Brigade Modernization Command, in concert with Army Test and Evaluation Command, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology's, known as ASA(ALT), System of Systems Integration Directorate, and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, are integrating and assessing developmental and emerging networked and non-networked capabilities to determine their implications across doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, education, personnel and facilities.

During the past decade, the Army has leveraged commercial industry to achieve significant modernization of network capabilities through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan using the flexibility of contingency funding and operational necessity. However, the challenge now is to define a process that enables success within the current materiel enterprise framework.

With the NIE effort, the Army has established a similar operational environment at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., supported by laboratory analysis at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to institute the Agile Process that will introduce and evaluate commercial technologies in a controlled setting.

This phased Agile Process is an effort to procure critical capabilities in a more rapid manner, while ensuring technical maturity and integration synchronization. The ultimate end state of the Agile Process is the NIE, which is designed to procure and align systems that meet a pre-defined operational need or gap and demonstrate success through Soldier-led evaluations.

Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of TRADOC's Army Capabilities Integration Center, told an audience at the recent AUSA Winter Symposium and Exposition that, "A couple years ago, General Pete Chiarelli (former Army vice chief of staff) said we really need to evaluate things differently. All the things that we need to evaluate fall into three different buckets programs of record, capabilities under development and what I'd call emerging capabilities under development. We can evaluate any of these three (during the NIE). It opens lots of doors for the Army."

Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of TRADOC's Brigade Modernization Command, agreed.

"The NIE was designed to create efficiencies and minimize unnecessary steps, but also to meet the requirements in theater as well as the rapid change in technology," Dragon said. "It could be a system we've been developing for a while, or it could be an emerging capability that's required to meet a Soldier's need in Afghanistan. This has a wide variety of applications. Most importantly, it helps us keep up with the speed of changes occurring out in the technological arena."

NIE events assess potential network capabilities in a robust operational environment to determine whether they perform as needed, conform to the network architecture and are interoperable with existing systems. The NIE ensures that the network satisfies the functional requirements of the force, and relieves the end user, the Soldier in the field, of the technology integration burden.

The most important difference of the NIE approach is that the Army will place new and emerging technologies into the hands of Soldiers "early and often" to guide materiel development. This critical feedback is provided by Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, assigned to the Brigade Modernization Command.

"The new defense strategy causes us to operate over much greater areas than we are used to now," said Maj. Gen. Genero Dellarocco, commander of U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command. "What the NIE provides us is an expandable structure -- an affordable structure stateside -- to test our network, test our goods. Even in this period of austerity, we have to do that because that's the relevance that we owe to the fight."

The NIE structure also allows for program adjustments or elimination mid-stream, which not only produces more relevant end products for the Soldier, but saves experiment funds.

"We went and adjusted (a particular) program after an NIE, because this just didn't make sense," said Col. Daniel Hughes, director of Systems of Systems Integration. "We did this on two other programs at a savings in (the billions of dollars). So with our return on investment for the NIEs, we can probably run years of NIEs based on what we've already adjusted in the programs.

"One of the big keys of the NIE is not just the new technology. It's how we adjust the programs of record we have now, and the requirement set we have, to meet the needs of the warfighter today. We have to be adaptable enough with those programs to (adjust) them to really meet the requirements we have. The return on investment, every dollar I spend on the NIE, should give me $5 to $10 back at the other end," Hughes said.

The next Network Integration Evaluation, NIE 12.2, takes place from late April through early June, and will validate the final Capability Set 13 architecture. Fifty-four government systems and 52 industry systems are also under consideration for further evaluation to participate in the event. Of those, HMS Manpack and Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, critical pieces of the architecture, will conduct their initial operational test and evaluation. Additionally, NIE 12.2 will also center on a number of non-networked systems with a focus on operational energy.

As the Army's involvement in Afghanistan continues to subside, the Agile Process and NIEs will continue to address capability gaps and procure and integrate systems that meet those needs and gaps.

"The NIE is more than just a specific geographic focus," Dragon said. "Though the NIE does (currently) address contemporary operations, you have to look at the broad range of capabilities that are out there. There's non-network capabilities that we have simply just started to brush into.

"We've got other domains to include, the domains that our sister services (operate) in and the interoperability for the coalition force we have to sustain over time. So there are a number of reasons why we would want to be able to look at ourselves about every six months to see how well we can operate," Dragon said.