Editor's Note: Parts of this article were taken from an Army News Service story written by Claire Heininger.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Initial findings from the Army's latest Network Integration Evaluation show steady progress toward improved, user-friendly tactical communications systems, as well as new efficiencies from the consolidation of test practices.

Although the final technical evaluations and responses are still pending, the Army is reviewing early assessments from NIE 13.1, which concluded Nov. 17, and planning for NIE 13.2, which gets underway in May 2013. Observations from NIE 13.1 included a more stable network backbone, demand for a "mid-tier" networking radio for use by lower echelons, and better user collaboration through a common framework for operations and intelligence tools. Several systems that participated in previous NIEs had incorporated Soldier feedback into updated versions with software and hardware enhancements.

"NIE is basically new communications-electronics technology being demonstrated by the original equipment manufacturers," said Amy Pocius, a logistics management specialist in Tobyhanna Army Depot's Production Management Directorate. "C-E technology accepted by the Army will be integrated into existing systems."

In 2010, the Program Manager Command Post Systems and Integration, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., requested Tobyhanna Army Depot's support of systems associated with the NIE exercises. Depot technicians provided set-up, maintenance and repair support for generators, environmental control units and Trailer-Mounted Support Systems, which are command post platforms equipped with communications-electronics systems.

"This support is being done at Fort Bliss (Texas) and White Sands Missile Range (New Mexico), where the NIEs take place," said Tom Yanochko, a project officer in the depot's Field Logistics Support Directorate (FLS). "It has since increased to support of the Lightweight Counter Mortar radar system. We fabricated cables here so the system could be included in NIE exercises."

Employees fabricated cables at the depot's Fort Hood Forward Repair Activity for other systems tested during NIE 12.2 and supported components of the Nett Warrior system, a communications system light enough to be carried by a Soldier.

As a result of Tobyhanna's support if NIE, FLS technicians will field, repair and provide training for the Company Command Post beginning in late January, Pocius said.

"With each NIE, we get better -- the technology improves, Soldier proficiency increases, and we become more efficient in how we execute," said Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Mission Command Directorate.

"Doing these events every six months allows us to keep pace with technical advances and address new requirements and capability gaps as they arise."

During the month-long NIE event held at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored
Division evaluated five systems under formal test and 21 under evaluation.

NIE 13.1 offered an early look at network enhancements that will be provided by Capability Set 14, helped to integrate mobile network technologies on armored platforms such as the Stryker, evaluated the requirements for a mid-tier radio within the network architecture, and hosted a formal test for Nett Warrior, a smartphone-like device that allows dismounted leaders to navigate terrain, exchange messages and digitally track one another's locations.

NIE 13.1 was the fourth NIE conducted, and the Army continues to apply lessons learned in an effort to make each NIE more effective.

Through streamlined NIE testing practices, the Army has realized $86.2 million in cost avoidance and savings by evaluating multiple systems in an integrated setting, rather than holding multiple independent events, and by improving processes such as data collection and instrumentation planning. Requiring all systems to go through a laboratory assessment and integration phase prior to NIE operations has also reduced NIE risk and cost.