“What a long strange trip it’s been.”
– Jerry Garcia
It’s been a full decade since the U.S. Army began to transition its formations away from the historic division-centric, mission-specific models to brigade-centric, modular formations with common designs for both active component and Reserve component units.
In parallel with that significant organizational transformation, the Army’s equipment modernization efforts have also evolved dramatically over the same 10 years; from an initial focus on a notional Future Combat System (FCS); through a focus on Enhanced Infantry Brigade Combat Teams (E-IBCT); to a current focus on Capability Set Management.
Once seen as “the centerpiece of the Army’s modernization program,” the Army’s FCS program was credited to then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki as a way for Army elements to react to international crises rapidly with overwhelming combat power. The concept emerged as a family of 18 manned and unmanned systems connected by a battlefield network that was focused around the soldier. Service planners saw the FCS Brigade Combat Team (BCT) as vital to providing the joint force with a networked, modular warfighting capability that would be consistent with an evolving vision of future land combat.
By 2004, the Army had already converted many of its brigade-sized units to a modular configuration. Meanwhile, in the months following completion of the FCS “capstone demonstration” at Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Belvoir, Va., in March 2003, the FCS program saw a significant restructuring that returned five previously deferred programs to the FCS umbrella, extended the development cycle by four years, and accelerated delivery of FCS capabilities to the current force in a process dubbed “spin outs.”
The Army held its first public demonstration of several FCS “spin out” technologies at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, in 2005, and in January 2006, announced that an Evaluation Brigade Combat Team (EBCT), to be based at Fort Bliss, Texas, would be used to test and evaluate the early FCS equipment.
Other organizational and programmatic changes followed, including renaming the EBCT as the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF); completion of FCS “Experiment 1.1” in February 2007; formal AETF standup in June 2007; AETF “spin out 1” (renamed “Increment 1”) Technical Field Testing in early 2009; Limited User Testing in summer 2009 (LUT 09); a December 2009 Defense Acquisition Board that approved low rate initial production (LRIP) for one BCT set while directing continued testing of “Increment 1” assets over the next two years; and an expanded round of LUT in September 2010. 2010 also saw the reflagging of AETF as 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD) when that unit relocated from Germany to Fort Bliss.
With the formal termination of the FCS program in June 2009, modernization efforts during this period were refocused on delivering the incremental benefits to the so-called E-IBCTs.
While many of the early E-IBCT modernization evaluations had emphasized the passing of sensor data throughout the brigade, the 2010 evaluations had pointed instead to a need for soldiers to have greater battlefield connectivity to collaborate at a tactical level.
That realization, combined with myriad lessons learned in the field, shifted the modernization focus to Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) events, with the initial NIE, designated NIE 11.2, taking place approximately June 1-15, 2011, at Fort Bliss and nearby White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. [See: “U.S. Army Modernization Shifts to Network Integration Exercises” in the Fall 2011 edition of Defense].