FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2013) -- As the Army grapples with budget austerity and prepares for future operations beyond Afghanistan, the Network Integration Evaluations will endure as an effective, cost-efficient way to quickly modernize the force, senior leaders said.
The Network Integration Evaluations, or NIEs, which have already yielded enhanced network capabilities for select brigade combat teams deploying to Afghanistan, are now adapting to encompass scenarios posed by other theaters and the regional alignment of forces, as well as joint and coalition operations. At the same time, the NIE business model -- using a single brigade combat team to conduct integrated evaluations for government and industry systems in a realistic operational environment -- will remain an enduring avenue to fill emerging capability gaps.
"We have seen progress into a tactically deployable digital network, and we believe that we've realized significant cost avoidance," said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of the Brigade Modernization Command, during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army Institute of Land Warfare Winter Symposium and Exposition. "We're young in the maturity and the evolutionary state of the NIE. We are preparing for a joint and multinational effort, and we'll set the stage through the series of NIEs we have coming up."
Launched in June 2011, the NIEs are a cornerstone of the Army's network modernization strategy to keep pace with rapid technology growth and deliver proven and integrated capabilities into the hands of the Soldier.
As a result of the NIEs, two brigades of the 10th Mountain Division, who will deploy to Afghanistan this year, are now training with Capability Set 13, or CS 13, a fully-integrated communications package that will allow commanders to take the network with them in vehicles and deliver voice and data down to the dismounted squad and Soldier. Those reach-back capabilities will be key for U.S. forces as they work closely with and support the Afghan forces in mobile, distributed operations.
While NIE missions to date have confirmed that CS 13 can support such operations, they have not been limited to the Afghan mission. Scenarios have posed a hybrid threat comprised of conventional forces, insurgents, criminals and electronic warfare, and required the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division to execute combined arms maneuver, counterinsurgency and stability operations using network equipment.
In the future, NIE exercises will include new offensive and defensive operations replicating what units may face in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and other regions, including joint and coalition involvement beginning with NIE 14.2 next spring. The objectives and capability gaps that the Army releases for each NIE will also evolve based on emerging needs.
"As we start to broaden that scope, it's not just Afghanistan-focused," said Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Mission Command Directorate. "It's about fighting in multiple terrains, so we're going to look for things that provide us maximum flexibility that are not wedded to one particular platform or one particular formation."
NIEs now incorporate operational energy and base defense systems, and will continue to incorporate other non-network systems in accordance with Army priorities.
The NIEs will also remain a significant source of efficiency for Army acquisition and testing, the officials said. Driven by Soldier feedback, NIE lessons-learned have allowed the Army to restructure certain programs, terminate others, and re-allocate resources to other areas.
A recent study by the Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity found that the NIEs have demonstrated potential cost savings of $181 million over five years. The report also cited other significant benefits that have not yet been quantified, including smarter use of field service representatives, better integrated training, and several instances when the integrated test environment uncovered performance issues that were not identified in individual system tests. The NIE enables the Army to resolve these issues prior to fielding, as well as to quickly implement design changes to improve systems based on Soldier feedback. Requiring all systems to go through a laboratory assessment and integration phase prior to NIE operations has also reduced risk and cost.
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, the Army has also realized $86.2 million in NIE cost avoidance and savings. Going forward, the Army can leverage the NIE construct to perform distributed testing and training that pairs the institutional and operational network across various sites beyond Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., said Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, commander of the Army Test and Evaluation Command.
"We can do it at low cost, fight like we're going to in the future, and do it in that fashion," he said.
Now preparing for its fifth NIE this spring, the Army continues to apply lessons learned in an effort to make the process more effective, particularly when it comes to interacting with industry partners who submit systems for evaluation. Having listened to industry feedback from the first four NIEs, the Army is incorporating a combined Request for Proposals and Sources Sought process to procure promising capability out of the NIE; pairing vendor systems with Army programs earlier in the process; and doing more advance planning of NIEs so companies can better align their research and development resources with the capabilities the Army is seeking.
"We've empowered industry to assist us in modernizing the Army by providing a venue where we can experiment, define requirements and make procurement decisions going forward," said Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, known as ASA(ALT). "We have an obligation on our side to do a better job of defining and making available to you the requirements now and into the future."
Lessons learned from the NIEs not only affect the conduct of future NIE iterations, but are also being applied to the process of producing, fielding and training units on Capability Set 13. These include everything from how network systems are installed onto a vehicle, to which training approach is most effective, to which Soldiers within a brigade are issued certain pieces of equipment. NIEs will continue to ensure that CS 13 and future network enhancements are Soldier-vetted, fully integrated and fielded in an effective and efficient manner.