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The Army Network Readies for the Battlefield

It’s one level of complexity for the U.S. Army and its tactical partners to plan and integrate an evolving battlefield network. It’s another level to successfully evaluate that evolving network through the semi-annual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process and validate a confidence level that enables fielding of the validated network integrated packages as “Capability Sets” to Army brigades and divisions. But it is another complexity level entirely when that fielded network is deployed to a combat theater in support of U.S. Army warfighters for the first time.

And that is the complex network environment where the Army finds itself in early summer of 2013. Simply stated, at the same time that analysis continues on NIE 13.2, recently completed at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., two of the first U.S. Army brigade combat teams equipped with the “Capability Set 13” network architecture – the 3rd and 4th brigades of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) – are responding to orders for deployment to Afghanistan.

 

The NIEs

Emerging from the ashes of the Army’s terminated Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, the NIE process built on a foundation of Limited User Testing (LUT) conducted at Fort Bliss/White Sands by the Army Evaluation Task Force in FY 09 and FY 10.

Emerging from the ashes of the Army’s terminated Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, the NIE process built on a foundation of Limited User Testing (LUT) conducted at Fort Bliss/White Sands by the Army Evaluation Task Force in FY 09 and FY 10. Much of that early LUT focused on the so-called “Increment 1” hardware that had emerged from FCS, ranging from a “Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” to a “Network Integration Kit” and the supporting technologies necessary to extend networking capabilities to the smallest combat organizations.

The network became the focus of the first two NIEs – NIE 11.2 in spring 2011 and NIE 12.1 in late fall of that year – as the Army established a network baseline and matured the materiel solutions identified to bridge the gaps in that baseline.

Network Integration Evaluation 13.1

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, drive a vehicle equipped with Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T Increment 2, during the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 13.1, Nov. 9, 2013. WIN-T Increment 2 is a major upgrade to the tactical network backbone that enables mobile mission command. U.S. Army photo by Claire Heininger

The evaluations are conducted by the Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD), based at Fort Bliss, Texas. The fall “.1” events tend to be somewhat smaller level exercises focused on company- and battalion-level operations, while the spring “.2” evaluations see the entire brigade heading to White Sands Missile Range to conduct greatly expanded operations across realistic brigade battlefield footprints.

Much of the success of the Army’s NIE process has stemmed from the “triad” of organizations that worked together throughout the process: U.S. Army Brigade Modernization Command (BMC); the System of Systems Integration (SOSI) directorate in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)); and the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC). The triad was also supported by myriad other organizations from across the Army and other services.

Much of the success of the Army’s NIE process has stemmed from the “triad” of organizations that worked together throughout the process: U.S. Army Brigade Modernization Command (BMC); the System of Systems Integration (SOSI) directorate in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)); and the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC).

Physical manifestations of the NIE “gap bridging” evaluations were evident in a selection of Systems Under Test (SUTs) and Systems Under Evaluation (SUEs) at each of the NIEs, with the SUT process feeding formal program testing/acquisition milestones and the SUEs – provided by both government and industry participants – evaluated for their general abilities to fill identified gaps.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...