One of the most significant land force activities over the past few years has focused on the development and refinement of the U.S. Army’s network integration strategy.
That strategy has emerged through a testing, analysis, and decision process that followed the termination of the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program and the subsequent establishment of the Early-Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) activities at Fort Bliss/White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).
Initial FCS and E-IBCT modernization evaluation activities were undertaken by the Army’s 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF), based at Fort Bliss, Texas (5-1 AD). That evaluation unit was subsequently reflagged as 2-1 AD in 2010 when the 2nd Brigade relocated to Fort Bliss from Germany (2-1 AD picked up the modernization evaluation focus, but remains a deployable brigade within Army force structures).
Following another round of testing in the fall of 2010, an early 2011 Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review altered the earlier course established for the E-IBCT activities while expanding on the E-IBCT investment to exploit the infrastructure and capabilities that provide the foundation for a new Army tactical network capability. The altered modernization course was also accompanied by the redesignation of the Army Capabilities Integration Center’s Future Force Integration Directorate (ARCIC FFID) as the Brigade Modernization Command (BMC) in early February.
Perhaps the most critical outgrowth from the earlier E-IBCT effort was the ability for the Army to explore how to better align its networking programs – both current and future – at both tactical networking and “global” networking levels and then link those networking capabilities to the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) model. At the tactical networking level, for example, this new process allowed for a better linkage of networking capabilities with deploying units. Previously, deploying units arrived in theater, where they received items of theater provided equipment (TPE). The TPE was often fielded in response to urgent need statements and had been “sent over” for integration in theater. The net result was additional burden on the deploying brigade and the recognition that those types of networking capabilities needed to be fielded “stateside,” prior to deployment, in what the Army is now calling “capability sets.”
According to modernization planners, it is the Army’s belief that they will lessen the in-field integration burden on operational units by providing relevant operational environments in which to evaluate the new technologies underlying the capability sets prior to fielding those new systems to operational units. The approach not only allows the Army to examine formal programs of record (POR) but also to examine critical new ideas from industry to more quickly integrate them – should they be selected for accelerated fielding – prior to their arrival to units in combat.
The initial two-year capability set, CS13/14, is currently seen as something of a “bridge solution,” with the follow-on CS15/16 representing the first fully integrated package of future networking capabilities.
Army program planners are quick to stress that the capability sets – a package or bundle of integrated network capabilities that work together and will get fielded on a two-year cycle – are very different from the so-called “spin outs” that had been envisioned under E-IBCT.
While acknowledging that the E-IBCT did help build the baseline for the tactical network, including waveforms and critical connectivity, they quickly add that the network was not completely aligned with the other supported capabilities like FBCB2 [Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below] and WIN-T [Warfighter Information Network – Tactical].
Moreover, they also point to the fact that the E-IBCT effort focused on the ability to pass sensor data throughout the brigade, while the 2010 evaluations showed that soldiers really needed the focus shifted from passing sensor data to ensuring their battlefield connectivity and their ability to collaborate at a tactical level.
That recognition, together with the networking baseline emerging from the E-IBCT effort, provided the foundation on which the Army has established a series of increasingly complex Network Integration Exercises (NIEs), culminating in a full BCT Network Evaluation of the CS13/14 “bridge” capability set in the September-October 2012 timeframe. The NIEs are being conducted by 2-1 AD, which came to full strength in early March of this year.
The initial NIE, designated NIE 11.2, took place approximately June 1-July 15, 2011. With the strong support of service organizations like the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command (BMC), Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), Program Executive Office for Integration (PEO-I), and others, a nearly full strength 2-1 AD moved from Fort Bliss to nearby White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), N.M., for the initial exercise.
The NIE examined six specific POR, designated Systems Under Test (SUT):
- FBCB2 – BFT (Blue Force Tracker) Joint Capability Release (JCR);
- JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) – Handheld, Manpack, Small form factor (HMS);
- JTRS – Ground Mobile Radio (GMR);
- Network Integration Kit (NIK) Increment 1;
- Mounted Soldier System; and
- SPIDER Networked Munition.
For each of the SUTs the NIE provided “an operationally relevant event” that resulted in formal test results for incorporation in some form of upcoming acquisition milestone decision.
Along with the SUTs, the NIEs also provide an environment to evaluate a range of both networked and non-networked systems – both commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and government off-the-shelf (GOTS) – that could fill key capability gaps identified by the Army. This latter group is designated as Systems Under Evaluation (SUEs) and for NIE 11.2 included 29 developmental and emerging SUEs, ranging from Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care (MC4) to Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA), an umbrella effort helping to explore the applications for smart phones and other commercial hand-held devices in military operations.
NIE 11.2 also provided the Army with an opportunity to explore new concepts for a Company Command Post (CoCP) through prototype materiel solutions ranging from Stryker and Caiman MRAP vehicles modified with expanded command and control capabilities to trailer-based and tent-based mobile command post designs.
As of this writing, the Army is still awaiting the arrival of the technical assessment reports. Those reports, from both BMC and ATEC, will provide advice on the path ahead on some of the individual technologies – including both SUTs and SUEs – as well as overall network integration evaluation lessons learned.
In the interim, NIE planners characterize the recently-completed NIE as “the first of this type of combined test and evaluation, which brought together the doctrine, acquisition and test communities as part of a new process to demonstrate the Army’s holistic focus to integrate network components simultaneously in one operational venue,” adding that the “Army successfully brought the test, acquisition and doctrine communities together to synchronize and streamline the evaluation and feedback approach – allowing for more usable test data and direct user feedback to the acquisition community. The Army combined and synchronized formal testing using one Brigade Combat Team – a unit dedicated to performing operationally relevant tests and evaluations [2-1 AD]. The Army now no longer has to tap into many different units for the tests – it has a single brigade dedicated to the effort. Consolidating the network evaluation at Ft. Bliss/WSMR enabled testing and evaluating the Army network as a whole vice individual programs. This is an effective and essential way of doing business.”
According to one program participant, one of the biggest early lessons learned involved “taking a look at what integration really means.” Aspects of the lesson range from the time required and technical challenges to make individual components talk to each other to the ways that systems actually interface with each other in a tactical environment. In addition, the NIE reportedly identified a need to explore how systems integrate not just with each other but also with the soldiers themselves. This integration challenge mandates giving the warfighters the time and the skills to be able to train on the equipment, to learn how to properly use the equipment, to begin to learn how to properly maintain the equipment, and then to learn how that equipment physically interfaces with the other equipment and components within the unit.
Another facet of integration that the Army began to look at in NIE 11.2 involved the fact that different battalions might have slightly different functions, which would likely translate to different mission equipment sets that still have to work across the common network.
The criticality of these expanded integration issues is further emphasized by the fact that the same issues are also planned for inclusion in the next NIE along the modernization pathway.
Designated NIE 12.1, the upcoming three-week event will officially be held at WSMR Oct. 31-Nov. 19, 2011 and will involve nearly 3,800 soldiers and 1,000 vehicles from 2-1 AD. According to exercise planners, the primary purpose of NIE 12.1 is to “continue required evaluations in support of POR milestones and advancing integration and understanding of the objective and bridge Army network architectures. It will also begin to establish the Objective Integrated Network Baseline, common connectivity across the Brigade Combat Team structure, and introduce industry participation in the NIE evaluation cycle. This second NIE will build off lessons learned from the June and July NIE evaluation in order to support the Army’s holistic focus to integrate network components simultaneously in one operational venue.”
Formal objectives for NIE 12.1 include:
- accomplish required evaluations in support of POR milestones and funding decisions;
- introduce industry participation into the NIE construct based on TRADOC [U.S. Army TRaining and Doctrine Command]-identified gaps;
- establish the Objective Integrated Network Baseline;
- evaluate integration of aerial/ground networks;
- evaluate the mission command capabilities available to leaders at command posts, while on the move and to the dismounted soldier; and
- refine assessment of network vulnerabilities.
NIE 12.1 will primarily involve two subordinate units within 2-1 AD: 1-35 Armor and 1-1 Cav. Those units are expected to spend the month prior to the event loading software and conducting communications checkouts in local field environments.
During the event itself, 1-35 Armor will reportedly be operating as a light infantry unit and looking at what an “objective integrated network baseline” might look like. 1–1 Cav will take a look at the “interim” networking capability, largely in the form of heavy theater provided equipment.
Another early lesson identified from the recent NIE 11.2 is the need for the Army to continue to explore the capabilities for Mission Command On The Move (MCOTM). In NIE 12.1 that will likely translate to a continuing emphasis on the CoCP and the materiel implications of “battle command collapse” as battle command responsibilities are increasingly shouldered at levels below battalion.
One expanded capability that appears to be working its way “forward” into NIE 12.1 is WIN-T Increment 2. Although Increment 2 is currently scheduled to go through its Initial Test and Evaluation as part of the March-April NIE in calendar year 2012, program planners plan to bring “several” WIN-T Increment 2 vehicles into this NIE to begin to define that aspect of the network baseline and explore how it will interact with CoCP and MCOTM.
Another early lesson learned from NIE 11.2 that will likely be carried into NIE 12.1 involved the importance of the aerial tier of the tactical network. As part of the exercise, the Army integrated Rifleman radios into the wingtips of the Shadow unmanned aircraft system, providing a key capability to extend the range of the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW). In addition, both JTRS – HMS and JTRS – GMR radios were included in a mission package raised over the battlefield by the Pegasus blimps and provided another key aspect of the capability to extend the terrestrial waveform layer across an exercise area representative of the significantly expanded battlespace scenarios of current combat operations.
Service representatives are quick to emphasize that the small unit and small unit operations are still going to be a key aspect of both NIE 12.1 as well as the follow-on March-April 2012 event with the integrated objective network baseline remaining on how to get that critical connectivity down to the soldier level.
While specific numbers may vary, the Army is currently examining between 45 and 50 SUEs for NIE 12.1. That number began with a series of candidate assessments conducted during June and July that led to a prioritization of systems for 12.1.
Looking toward the future, the Army has also begun the process of candidate assessments for participation in the March-April 2012 NIE.
Sources close to the process note that the candidate assessments are formal assessments in a laboratory environment of systems and capabilities emerging from a “sources sought” announcement. Areas assessed include technology readiness with additional emphasis on integration readiness and operational value in the hands of soldiers. They caution that making it onto the SUE list for NIE is an important step, but it is hardly the final step in an acquisition process.
In fact, the entire NIE process seems to support a new way of thinking about materiel acquisition, in which the Army anticipates “buying less more often.”
The new approach will likely be evident in things like an increasing number of sources sought announcements as the Army continues to examine and explore capabilities and capability gaps.
From an industry perspective, the increasing numbers of announcements will certainly add to the workloads of those tasked with responding. But even more significant will be the challenges that this environment will present to some as they come to grips with smaller/lower quantity purchases – possibly for a few units at a time – while the Army continues to look and see what else might be available to help warfighters bridge emerging capability gaps.
This article was first published in Defense: Fall 2011 Edition.