February 6, 2012

How U.S. Army is restructuring its modernization programs based on the NIE results

News Report

Here in this blog we have already discussed how the U.S. Army is using its Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) efforts, part of the Agile Acquisition Process, to force a shift from Research, Developmental, Technical and Engineering efforts to the procurement of mature network capability that will be fielded starting in 2013 (1,2). The year-old NIE has already driven decisions to send certain systems to the field, revamp others to better meet Soldier needs and terminate several programs that lacked merit, leading to significant cost savings and avoidance.

As reported by U.S. Army, much of the cost savings and avoidance stems from program adjustments made after NIE results prompted the U.S. Army to re-assess planned purchases or revise requirements. Examples include the cancellation of the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team effort (including the Network Integration Kit) and the Mounted Soldier System program, and the restructure of the Nett Warrior and Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio efforts.

Industry participation in the NIE and the Agile Process is growing steadily, and more than 40 industry technologies will be included as part of NIE 12.2 in April-June.

Nett Warrior

Nett Warrior is the desendent of the U.S. Army’s Land Warrior program, which sought to provide soldiers with digital maps connected to a tactical data network and managed by a small computer. During the first NIE event in June 2011, U.S. soldiers deemed the system valuable but too bulky (it was weighting between eight to 10 pounds). U.S. Army leadership quickly restructured the Nett Warrior program to take advantage of the latest commercial technology. The lighter version unveiled at a press briefing in October 2011 weights three pounds and consists of a monocle to project battlefield maps and unit location data to the user, and what the service calls an End User Device connected to a Joint Tactical Radio System Rifleman Radio.

The slimmed-down version of Nett Warrior received positive reviews at NIE 12.1 in November 2011. This radical redesign was the result of post-NIE 12.1 U.S. Army's decision to trim many of the old features from the system. These changes yielded more than $800 million in cost avoidance and resulted in a more usable end product for the dismounted Soldier, to be delivered to more units on a faster timeline. "In the Nett Warrior situation, the formal requirement didn't match up with what users were saying they needed to get the job done," said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Battle Command Directorate. "The NIE gave us the opportunity to get the technology right, and to save significant time and money in the process."

Joint Tactical JTRS Ground Mobile Radio

Another major programmatic change related to the NIE is the termination of the Joint Tactical JTRS Ground Mobile Radio, or GMR. JTRS GMR is a software-programmable radio system providing secure, reliable, multi-channel voice, data, imagery and video communications for mobile military users. The system was expected to deliver networked communications on-the-move at the tactical edge supporting information sharing and combat readiness between service branches.

Soldiers at NIE 11.2 desired the GMR's communications potential but criticized its size, power consumption and startup time. When a decrease in the planned purchase quantity of GMR radios triggered a rise in unit cost and a subsequent Nunn McCurdy Breach, the Department of Defense decided not to re-certify the program, thus clearing a path for the U.S. Army to pursue lower cost, mature alternatives within the available radio market.

The U.S. Army is now using the Agile Process to procure a GMR replacement, known as the Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio, or MNVR. This Non-Developmental Item, known as NDI, effort aims to procure available radios that transmit information using high bandwidth, non-proprietary waveforms such as Wideband Networking Waveform, or WNW, and Soldier Radio Waveform, or SRW, to move voice, video, data and images across the force in real time. The Army will leverage NIE 13.1 in the fall to test potential MNVR solutions and determine which will be fielded for Capability Set 14.

On November 2011, The U.S. Army issued a draft request for proposal for this system. Northrop Grumman and ITT Exelis have already teamed to compete for the U.S. Army's vehicle-mounted, software-defined radio, and proposed Northrop Grumman's Freedom 350 multifunction radio.

NIE 12.2

NIE 12.2 (scheduled for April-June 2012) will operate in a classified environment with secure data connections and will connect evaluation units to a higher-division headquarters, being represented by the 101st Airborne Division operating out of Fort Campbell, Ky. 2/1 AD operations at White Sands will require the brigade, battalion and company command posts to "jump" or move in uncooperative and unpredictable environments, and quickly establish network connectivity. A battalion-sized opposition force will be employed in dynamic scenarios with hybrid threats, including conventional forces, insurgents and members of the local population.

References: C4I Technology News (1,2), U.S. Army (3), DefenseSystems (4), MarketWatch (5)

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