By Claire Heininger, U.S. ArmyOctober 23, 2012
WASHINGTON (Oct. 23, 2012) -- As Soldiers prepare to deploy with the Army's new mobile tactical communications network, the service will continue to enhance that technology through the Network Integration Evaluations senior leaders said.
Speaking at the Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, Annual Meeting and Exposition, leaders said the Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs, will continue to evolve, with involvement of non-network capabilities, participation by joint and coalition partners, and the integration of communications gear onto Stryker and heavy platforms.
"This is an enduring process," said Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 Landwarnet-Mission Command Directorate. "It allows us to look at requirements coming out of theater from a doctrinal perspective, all the way down to the training and operational perspective, to how the unit is going to integrate it. That will be our iterative process that we'll go through."
On Oct. 1, the Army began fielding Capability Set, or CS, 13 to two brigade combat teams of the 10th Mountain Division. CS 13 is the first integrated package of communications technology that spans the entire brigade combat team formation, connecting the static tactical operations center to the commander on-the-move to the dismounted Soldier.
As fielding and training of CS 13 continues, the Army will use future NIEs to incorporate upgrades to that network baseline. NIE 13.1, the fourth iteration in the series of semi-annual, Soldier-driven field exercises designed to rapidly integrate and mature the Army's tactical communications network, kicked off with a pilot test this week at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
The event will offer an early look at improvements provided by CS 14, help to integrate mobile network technologies on armored platforms such as the Stryker, evaluate the requirements for a mid-tier radio within the network architecture, and host a formal test for Nett Warrior, a smartphone-like device that allows dismounted leaders to exchange messages and digitally track one another's locations.
"We're truly providing capability down to the edge," said Jennifer Zbozny, chief engineer for the Army Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, adding that CS 14 will continue to converge elements of the network architecture into common standards that allow for the rapid incorporation of commercial innovation. "Today's network works, but we can make it better -- make it flexible, make it more plug and play."
NIE 13.1 will also incorporate non-network systems, such as evaluation of more than half a dozen operational energy capabilities and a Limited User Test for the Paladin PIM program, consisting of distributed live fire evaluations taking place at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. The NIE construct will continue to expand in future exercises, including involvement by the joint services in 2014.
"What we'll evolve to is distributed testing over time," said Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commander of the Army Test and Evaluation Command. "As we go through and evolve, this is going to reduce risk on our programs and reduce the bill to the taxpayers."
The benefits of the NIE process are clear now that the Army is fielding CS 13, the leaders said. NIEs have not only allowed for Soldier-driven evaluations and assessments of network technologies in order to arrive at CS 13, they have also aided the Army in development of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for using the capability set. Lessons learned from the NIEs have been applied as the Army works to field, train and sustain CS 13.
"The Soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division are training on pieces that are already put together," said Brig. Gen. Daniel Hughes, Army director of System of Systems Integration. "The commanders of the units don't have to worry about integrating systems -- they get to think about war fighting."