Following completion of a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review in late December 2009, the U.S. Army received acquisition decision approval to move into low rate initial production for one Brigade Combat Team set of the “Increment 1” modernization program.
The decision was based in large part on the results of testing that had been conducted by the U.S. Army’s Army Evaluation Task Force (5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division or 5-1 AD AETF), based at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Those initial “Increment 1” assets had included: the small unmanned ground vehicle (SUGV), the Class 1 unmanned aerial system (UAS), both Tactical and Urban versions of Unattended Ground Sensors (T-UGS/U-UGS), the Non-Line Of Sight missile system (NLOS-LS) and vehicle-mounted Network Integration Kits (NIKs).
At the time of the DAB approval, service representatives noted that the decision “formally paved the way for production of one Brigade Combat Team set of equipment, which will be used in Initial Operational Test and Evaluation [IOT&E] in FY 2011.”
The Army subsequently identified 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (3-1 AD), as the initial E-IBCT that will take the “Increment 1” brigade equipment through that IOT&E prior to anticipated deployment of that brigade
to Afghanistan with the new equipment in FY 12.
Describing the December 2009 DAB results, service representatives added, “Additionally, the Army plans continued testing of all ‘Increment 1’ assets over the next two years.”
Against a background of both major changes – cancellation of NLOS-LS with alternate fielding of M777A2 howitzers for precision fires as well as NIK integration on MRAP vehicles – and minor changes – continuing reliability and performance upgrades on many remaining systems – the 5-1 AD AETF has continued that aggressive testing program at White Sands Missile Range throughout 2010.
The unit began a series of milestone tests that led to critical Force Development Test and Evaluation (FDTE) and Limited User Test (LUT) ’10 in September of 2010, with the results of that testing paving the way for acquisition decisions on the next two brigades of modernized equipment.
While early rounds of the testing were already under way, Defense: Land Forces Edition visited with service representatives at White Sands to discuss “the way ahead” in the Army modernization process.
Lt. Col. Erik Webb is the product manager for E-IBCT “Increment 1” within the Program Executive Office – Integration.
“We are an ‘integrating’ project office,” Webb explained. “We do not acquire hardware systems, but instead our small team interfaces with ‘Increment 1’ prime contractors like Boeing and SAIC. Together we take items that have been through system integration laboratories and engineering development processes and bring them out here [to White Sands Missile Range] in what is something of an ‘RF-hostile environment.’
“We bring the systems together, do those full functional checkouts, and often we find some anomalies that then have to go back for an engineering solution in terms of a software or hardware change. We then bring those changes out and check them again, so it is an iterative process,” he added.
The equipment is then massed in sufficient quantities to meet the Army’s test and evaluation master plan requirements to support both developmental and operational test events.
“We get the equipment ready,” Webb said. “We interface with the 5-1 AD AETF and sign that equipment over. We then oversee the conduct of training in preparation for testing by the operators. We assist the operators during their initial individual and collective training. We get all of that going, so that the unit is then ready for TRADOC’s [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] Force Development Test and then the Army’s Limited User Test.”
With that experience and process involvement, Webb is perfectly positioned to provide a look at the recent evolution of U.S. Army modernization efforts.
Increased System Performance and Reliability
As part of this evolution, Webb then revealed a number of hardware issues that have contributed to the new performance and reliability characteristics across the “Increment 1” capabilities package.
“What we did differently this year, in the run-up to our currently ongoing set of operational tests, was to really focus on reliability,” he said. “That really was a bellwether – last year – making us realize that we really weren’t ‘ready for prime time’ yet. So, after last year’s Limited User Test [LUT ’09], working with the prime contractor and their suppliers, they went back and really looked at the designs of the equipment, the failure modes that were noted last year, and performed the analysis and engineering work to address and prioritize those key high payoff reliability fixes.”
The result was 160 corrective actions across the E-IBCT “Increment 1” systems, including 86 design changes.
As an example of the process, he noted that the NIK consists of the Integrated Computer System, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Ground Mobile Radio (GMR), and ground platform communications equipment, explaining, “Last year we were utilizing the GMR ‘pre-engineering development model’ radio. And there were some fairly significant limitations, most notably with its physical capability to withstand heat. So we were having to do some interesting things in terms of air-conditioning and cooling to keep those radios fully functioning. But it is a completely different story this year. Albeit it is now an ‘engineering development model’ radio, it has withstood the entire summer with nary a heat issue.”
Webb continued, “Now we will be going through the NIK IQT [Initial Qualification Testing] this week [early August], kicking it off with environmental testing. We have already done a small subset of that earlier this summer and it has already shown a marked improvement.
“The reason we had to do that thermal testing was that we entered this year with the program baseline showing the Network Integration Kit installed on HMMWV platforms. But TRADOC and other Army leadership said, ‘We really need to replicate with our testing the way that the systems might see activity in theater.’ So the direction was to move from HMMWV-based NIK platforms to MRAP-based NIKs. And that was an integration effort conducted from this office right here that very quickly applied the NIK to four different variations of MRAP, most notably the M-ATV. On M-ATV, the NIK is externally mounted in the bed of the truck, as opposed to the cab, so it doesn’t enjoy any of the crew climatic cooling. We wanted to ensure that the NIK could withstand the vibration and heat of that environment, so Jerry Tyree, the PEO – Integration engineering lead on the ground here at White Sands, conducted some initial thermal testing and it went very well,” he said.
“So major changes with NIK involved a different platform and significant upgrades to the GMR radio,” he added.
For the Class I UAS, a significant change over the past year has been the addition of the DDL [digital data link] radio, which has satisfied issues of robustness in terms of security. Additional peripheral items, ranging from an electric defueler/fueler to a canvas “launch pad,” have also been introduced.
Webb said that the main change on the SUGV involves a change to the Thermite computer operator’s processor, in which the spinning disk memory storage format was replaced with a solid-state memory device.
“That did two things. It took away some mechanical aspects of a rotating disk – and reliability concerns. Also it protects the unit against some of the heat failures we saw in the past. So again, this year, we have not seen any heat failures with that solid-state Thermite computer,” he said.
“For the T-UGS, there have been a host of changes, most notably software upgrades,” he said. “In addition, another major change from last year has been the development of the ‘kit’ by which the system is transported on soldiers’ backs. So that has included inserts to the standard MOLLE [Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment] pack as well as the fabrication of pouches that allow a team to configure a T-UGS based upon mission needs and their anticipated use. Similarly, with the U-UGS, they have developed a means of efficiently transporting the sensors so that a two-man team can quickly go through a building with one man carrying the sensors while the other quickly removes them and places them along the way.”
Another change to the unattended ground sensors has been the elimination of the “Range Extension Relay” that was required in 2009.
“We employed it to increase the range from either a T-UGS gateway or U-UGS gateway to the controlling NIK-equipped vehicle,” Webb noted. “With the addition of the JTRS HMS [Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit] radio and its corresponding Soldier Radio Waveform, we no longer need a range extension capability to get from the gateway and meet the TRADOC requirement to get back to the NIK. We can now do it straight from the gateway to the NIK through the HMS radio, SRW waveform, and a new ‘fabric mast’ that elevates the gateway antenna.”
Summarizing the hardware enhancements, Webb offered, “Based upon some of the hard lessons learned over last  summer, during Limited User Testing ’09, and robust engineering efforts, the systems now meet most if not all of their performance and reliability requirements.”
In addition to the primary hardware and software upgrades, the availability of enhanced versions of new JTRS radio waveforms, including the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW 1.0C EW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW 4.0) have led to remarkable improvements in range performance (now greater than 11 kilometers for SRW and greater than 30 kilometers for WNW) and have helped open the door to expanded tactics, techniques, and procedures.
As an example, Webb offered that using WNW “as the passenger train” is allowing AETF to explore new soldier applications and capabilities, including chat, file sharing for routine orders, and whiteboard capabilities to annotate transmitted images.
Webb’s hardware performance and reliability assertions are supported by the results of the continuing 5-1 AD AETF testing process.
As an example of that process, he pointed to the recent completion of “Technical Test 1,” which he described as “the contractors’ developmental test activity. It was contractor-run, but with government furnished material and equipment. It’s similar to developmental testing, but under this contract arrangement, the contractors are required to demonstrate ability to meet verification objectives, as opposed to ‘hard and fast’ types of one-dimensional specifications. It is more stringent in many regards, because no longer is it a ‘one off’ pass/fail. It is multiple iterations, and you are showing the probability of events over multiple iterations.”
“Technical Test 1” and a follow-on “Technical Test 2” were conducted in the May-June 2010 timeframe.
“We did have soldier participation in the Technical Tests,” Webb acknowledged. “But, as I said, it was a ‘developmental type test,’ so the soldier participation was not necessarily in the tactical context. But our ability to bring soldiers in during that developmental test event and get them acclimated and accustomed – ‘stick time’ on the equipment, if you will – paid off very nicely.”
Those tests were followed in late July 2010 by “Platoon Lanes,” a Situational Training Exercise (STX) series that Webb characterized as “the first time that an entire battalion of the Army Evaluation Task Force operated
with the equipment.”
During Defense: Land Forces Edition’s mid-August visit to White Sands, the AETF was conducting the next iteration in its test build-up known as Company level STX.
New Operational Environment
Against the backdrop of hardware enhancements, the 2010 evolutionary test cycles are being conducted in what many see as a far more realistic contemporary operational environment that has been crafted across White Sands Missile Range.
September 2009’s LUT ’09, for example, had explored the capabilities of what planners called “an enhanced reinforced rifle company” equipped with a limited number of “Increment 1” elements. The company’s operational area was restricted to a fairly small flat area surrounding a training complex known as “Adobe Village.”
In acknowledgment of vast discrepancies between that setting and the current operational environment, 2010 saw the creation of entirely new settings, including the establishment of two new village complexes: “Yucca Village” on White Sands Missile Range’s eastern side; and “Mountain Village” approximately 35 kilometers to the northwest. In between the two village complexes, Company STX blue force elements have also conducted clearing operations – both day and night – within the three-story former White Sands Range Control building complex.
In addition to expanding the operational space, the villages and supporting test scenarios are designed to provide an enhanced degree of operational realism.
Jerry Tyree, director of White Sands Missile Range operations and Future Force Integration Directorate deputy director of materiel, discussed the supporting planning process on a drive up the steep and rugged dirt track leading to the newly established “Mountain Village.”
Tyree, who also led the successful effort to integrate NIK capabilities onto multiple MRAP platforms, explained, “This area was picked out by some of the AETF soldiers who are veterans of Afghanistan. We did some looking around to see what was sustainable in terms of the operation and they selected this area as best replicating the kind of terrain that they see in an Afghanistan setting.”
Digressing slightly, he observed, “Every piece of equipment is a tool. A hammer, for example, is good for a lot of stuff but it’s not the solution to everything. You need screwdrivers and wrenches and pliers to accomplish the complete job.”
He continued, “So, we wanted to find an area where line of sight is intermittent and difficult to achieve; an area that would cause the AETF to employ all of their tools. And this is just such an area. As an example, there are only a couple of ways in and out of here, as you might find in some villages around Afghanistan. So they can really hide the T-UGS in some of the areas along these roads. And they get triggers and automatic alerts when somebody is coming in – they get an image of who it is or what it looks like. But they have also had scenarios where some ‘high value targets,’ opposing force members also played by other parts of the AETF, have disappeared down some of these wooded wadis. Well, when they launch the Class I UAS with visible and infrared imagery, you can see where the guy is going and cut him off. But they had one case where the company did not get the UAS into the air and the guy got away.”
As the track continued to climb, it wound up and down myriad small- and medium-sized depressions that were more than enough to deny line of sight with support units scattered across the desert floor below.
“This is a great test for the mobile ad hoc networking protocols,” Tyree observed. “Units are consistently dropping in and out of the network, with the network reestablishing network linkages as they come back in.”
Moreover, the mountains that rise above the village are dotted with several old mines, with some of these sites available to provide cave-like scenarios.
Cresting a knoll, Tyree directed, “Look right over there at the village.” After a short pause and a bit of confusion, he admitted, “That was a trick request. You can’t see it from here but there is a village that includes two-story ISO container buildings located just a couple hundred feet past that rise.”
Immediately outside “Mountain Village,” the AETF elements participating in Company STX had established a “Company Outpost” as part of the operational scenario, with role players in both villages acting and reacting in response to the actions of blue force elements.
“The unit has to figure out the changing dynamics of its relationship with the villages and villagers – including the cultural interaction,” Tyree observed. “So ideally they have to use these ‘Increment 1’ systems, together with other available tools and intelligence, to be able to discern the good guys from the bad guys in different situations.
“It’s not just about, ‘Can I fly a Class I UAS in this terrain?’ This is about ‘How do I apply that operationally and use these tools together?” he said.
The Way Ahead
“The next stop after Company STX will be a maintenance period for the equipment by the prime contractor and their suppliers,” Webb said. “Then we will head into the ‘pilot test’ for the Force Development Test [FDT] and Limited User Test.”
The “pilot test” reflects part of the Army’s Operational Test Command (OTC) process of conducting an end-to-end test, where the “user community,” normally TRADOC, provides a vignette or mission for the unit under test to perform. That is the operational testers’ initial check that all of their instrumentation and processes are working properly and will allow them to gather all of the subsequent data that they will require.
“One difference this year over last year is that OTC will also be conducting the Force Development Test for TRADOC,” Webb observed. “Now that is normally the case with most other programs, but here over the last two years TRADOC had opted to run their own Force Development Test. But this year Operational Test Command will be doing it for them. So they wanted to knock out that pilot test prior to the Force Development Test.”
FDT in early September would immediately be followed by the critical LUT ’10 during the last half of that month.
“Information coming out of the LUT will be used to develop an Operational Materiel Assessment Report,” Webb explained. “And that report will be the information that goes to the DAB decision makers.”
Providing successful results from the late September LUT, it is believed that the DAB, which will be held in late December, will authorize the acquisition of modernized equipment for two additional brigades, E-IBCT #2 and #3, to be fielded in the FY 12 and FY 13 timeframe.
Webb concluded, “Through significant effort by all members of the team, I think we are well suited to have the operators take the equipment through Limited User Test and garner the requisite information for our decision makers to make their decisions.”
With the 3-1 AD expected to get its “Increment 1” equipment beginning in 2011, 5-1 AD AETF will shift its focus to explore additional technologies for possible inclusion in future capability packages.
While some specifics of those potential packages remain as unclear as the operational mandates of an uncertain future, one point is clear: The Army has established a powerful modernization pathway capable of addressing challenges tomorrow and beyond.
This article was first published in Defense: Land Forces Edition Fall 2010.