November 28, 2011

U.S. Army concludes the NIE 12.1


News Report

Here in this blog we have extensively covered the recent exercises that have been scheduled by U.S. Army within the Network Integration Evaluation process (NIE). Establishing the NIE helped the U.S. Army employ a new agile acquisition process, since the U.S. Army now has a strategy to keep pace with industry and technological network advances and accelerate the pace of network modernization to a rate unachievable by traditional acquisition strategies.

As reported by the U.S. Army, the second Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE 12.1, has now concluded. The three-week event, represented the first time that all of the components of the U.S. Army network to be fielded in fiscal year 2013 were united and evaluated in a realistic operational environment. Soldiers at the lowest echelons were brought into the network, communicating through text messages, digital photos and chat rooms. Company commanders made quick decisions using information received in real time while moving around the battlefield. New hardware and software was integrated for the first time outside of a lab, and put to the test in mountainous desert terrain that mirrors the communications challenges in rugged places such as Afghanistan.

The second in a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to rapidly integrate and mature the U.S. Army's tactical network, NIE 12.1 involved 3,800 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division evaluating dozens of systems in operational scenarios. Soldier feedback and test results from the NIEs are directly shaping the makeup of the U.S. Army's network Capability Set 13, which will begin fielding to up to eight brigade combat teams in fiscal year 2013. Additional brigades will receive the latest network assets as part of Capability Set 14. Those capability sets will include greater bandwidth to transmit voice, video and data across the battlefield, as well as the ability to bring situational awareness and mission command information down to the dismounted Soldier.

NIE 12.1 provided the means to test, evaluate, and conduct risk reduction on a number of systems. One of those systems is the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2, i.e. the U.S. Army’s on-the-move, high-speed, high-capacity backbone communications network, linking Warfighters on the battlefield with the Global Information Grid (GIG). WIN-T introduces a mobile, ad-hoc, self-configuring, self-healing network using satellite on-the-move capabilities, robust network management, and high-bandwidth radio systems to keep mobile forces connected, communicating, and synchronized.

NIE 12.1 was also host to the Joint Tactical Radio System, or JTRS, Rifleman Radio program of record test. This radio, which is carried by platoon, squad and team-level Soldiers for voice communications, can connect with handheld devices to transmit text messages, GPS locations and other data. Soldiers with 2/1 AD also informally evaluated more than 45 other systems, including solutions proposed by industry to meet the Army's identified network capability gaps.

The Context

The NIE process was born of the U.S. Army’s recognition that its requirements, testing and acquisition processes were too slow, expensive and complicated. Moreover, it did not include the operator’s perspective. This realization was in itself a minor miracle. Credit for this epiphany goes to the outgoing Vice Chief of Staff, General Peter Chiarelli.

The U.S. Army is including the individual soldier in the NIE process. The solutions are not being imposed on them by a program office or acquisition authority. The soldiers in the field are telling the evaluators what works and what does not, what else they want and how they want to employ these new capabilities.

The next event, known as NIE 12.2, will take place in the spring and further solidify the Capability Set 13 network. The six-week event will include the formal operational test for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, the Army's on-the-move, satellite-based communications network, which was informally evaluated at NIE 12.1.

Comments

"We are getting a great look at connecting the Soldier to the network, and a fantastic look at mission command on the move -- for the first time in an operational setting," said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Battle Command Directorate. "For the first time we've got everything talking together, so now we can establish an integrated network baseline. It's just been phenomenal."

"Getting information technology to the field in a rapid fashion is what we're trying to do here," said Col. Dan Hughes, the Army's system of systems integration director. "Some of the systems that are here are systems that industry paid their money for, that they built, that they brought out, and are in the hands of Soldiers probably five to six years before they would be in the hands of Soldiers if we had gone through the regular (process). And they're getting feedback immediately."

"You can look back in history and think about how we commanded on the move," said  Brig. Gen. Randal A. Dragon, commanding general for the Brigade Modernization Command. "At one time we used messengers or runners. We've used flags while we were moving formations. We've used radios to be able to talk to one another. In this digital age, we're now able to pass information rapidly -- large quantities of information to create a common picture so that commanders can command effectively and get their Soldiers to the right place at the right time."

"It goes back to the basics of what we all do -- shoot, move and communicate," said Sgt. Ryan Moore. "All this equipment lets us do that faster. There's no shooting flares in the air to signal things anymore. I can call somebody, and everybody knows; we're all on the same page at the same time."

References: U.S. Army (1), Military.com (2), Defensemedianetwork (3), DefPro.com (4)

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