U.S. Army gears up for next Network Integration Evaluation

FORT BLISS, Texas — From train­ing Sol­diers to installing radios on vehi­cles, Army per­son­nel are engaged in intense prepa­ra­tions for this spring’s major field exer­cise for the tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work.

The Army has for­mal­ized the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, process and stood up an Inte­gra­tion Motor Pool ded­i­cat­ed to installing and val­i­dat­ing net­work gear for sev­er­al months pri­or to the start of the NIE 12.2.
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With the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.2 sched­uled to take place from May 1 to June 8 at Fort Bliss and White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M., the Army is now lay­ing the ground­work through up-front inte­gra­tion activ­i­ties. Over the past two weeks, the NIE Project Man­ag­er Cur­rent “Trail Boss” teams loaded and ver­i­fied equip­ment for more than 40 dif­fer­ent net­worked sys­tems on 350 vehi­cles using real­is­tic mis­sion threads.

“Those threads serve as sys­tem check­outs, as well as net­work check­outs, to ensure those vehi­cles are ready to go and be deliv­ered to the unit,” said Maj. Naim Lee, one of the trail boss­es assigned to the Army’s Sys­tem of Sys­tems Inte­gra­tion Direc­torate, or SoSI. “We debug and resolve all of the issues we can pri­or to actu­al­ly hand­ing it to the Sol­diers so they can suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete mis­sions.”

That is a change from the two pre­vi­ous NIEs that took place in 2011, when a short­er time­frame and few­er per­son­nel pre­vent­ed as much advance trou­bleshoot­ing, offi­cials said. Now, the Army has for­mal­ized the NIE process and stood up an Inte­gra­tion Motor Pool ded­i­cat­ed to installing and val­i­dat­ing net­work gear for sev­er­al months pri­or to the start of the event. The ser­vice has also cre­at­ed “Gold­en Vehi­cle” designs to stan­dard­ize the con­fig­u­ra­tion of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of net­work equip­ment on var­i­ous plat­forms.

“It’s not like an assem­bly line, but pret­ty close to it, to where it’s step by step so we’re not miss­ing any­thing,” said Rich Dauz, a SoSI inte­gra­tion engi­neer.

SoSI, the Brigade Mod­ern­iza­tion Com­mand, known as BMC, and Army Test and Eval­u­a­tion Com­mand form a tri­ad of orga­ni­za­tions that exe­cute the NIEs, a series of semi-annu­al field exer­cis­es designed to quick­ly inte­grate and mature the Army’s tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work.

NIE 12.2 will be the most sig­nif­i­cant such exer­cise the Army has con­duct­ed, equip­ping the 3,800 Sol­diers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Divi­sion, with the entire net­work archi­tec­ture of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13 — an inte­grat­ed pack­age of vehi­cles, net­work com­po­nents, and asso­ci­at­ed equip­ment and soft­ware that will be field­ed to Army brigade com­bat teams begin­ning in fis­cal year 2013.

These tech­nolo­gies will for the first time deliv­er an inte­grat­ed voice and data capa­bil­i­ty through­out the brigade com­bat team for­ma­tion down to the tac­ti­cal edge, even while mov­ing across the bat­tle­field.

“The net­work is an enabler for just about every­thing you’re doing,” said Col. John Mor­ri­son, direc­tor of the Army G-3/5/7 Land­War­Net-Bat­tle Com­mand Direc­torate. “We’re try­ing to pro­vide those tools to our oper­a­tional com­man­ders and our oper­a­tional lead­ers so they can exe­cute their mis­sion.”

The NIEs col­lect Sol­dier feed­back on sys­tem per­for­mance in real­is­tic oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios, allow­ing the Army to make informed deci­sions about what equip­ment to send to the field. The events are also forc­ing pos­i­tive changes to Army acqui­si­tion prac­tices through the Agile Process, which allows the ser­vice to more quick­ly pro­cure com­mer­cial tech­nolo­gies to meet defined capa­bil­i­ty gaps.

The NIEs and Agile Process also allow for revised require­ments based on user needs, such as when Army lead­er­ship quick­ly restruc­tured the Nett War­rior pro­gram to take advan­tage of the lat­est com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy fol­low­ing user feed­back at NIE 11.2.

“The first Nett War­rior that we were work­ing with was bulky and out­dat­ed,” said Staff Sgt. Juan Bara­jas, of 2/1 AD, who described the new smart­phone-like sys­tem he will use in NIE 12.2 as “a lot eas­i­er to use (and) a lot eas­i­er to car­ry.”

“They’re actu­al­ly lis­ten­ing to the sug­ges­tions we’re giv­ing them,” Bara­jas said.

Bara­jas joined users from sev­er­al 2/1 AD maneu­ver com­pa­nies last week for train­ing ses­sions on Nett War­rior, which is a Sol­dier-worn mis­sion com­mand sys­tem that con­nects with a tac­ti­cal radio to pro­vide dis­mount­ed lead­ers with increased sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness and mis­sion-relat­ed “apps.” Sol­diers who had not expe­ri­enced the sys­tem pre­vi­ous­ly said they found it easy to learn and looked for­ward to using it dur­ing the NIE.

“As far as our scout mis­sions, I’ll be able to see where my dis­mount­ed patrols are and in case we are engaged in a fire­fight, I’ll be able to maneu­ver them and see exact­ly where they are maneu­ver­ing to,” said Staff Sgt. Cyril LeBoeuf, 2/1 AD. “I’ll be able to see where the enemy’s at and I’ll be able to maneu­ver my unit a lot faster.”

Train­ing for the NIE is con­duct­ed not only on indi­vid­ual sys­tems, but also on an inte­grat­ed basis so Sol­diers can get the most use out of the capa­bil­i­ties. That approach is pro­duc­ing lessons-learned that will be valu­able as the Army begins to field and train brigades with Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13, said Brig. Gen. Ran­dal Drag­on, BMC com­man­der.

“Even though we train the Sol­diers and we pre­pare them on an indi­vid­ual sys­tem, what we see in the eval­u­a­tion is the inte­grat­ed capa­bil­i­ty — the inte­grat­ed train­ing chal­lenge, the inte­grat­ed ben­e­fit that we get as opposed to the stand­alone sys­tems,” Drag­on said. “From a train­ing per­spec­tive I think (the NIE) will help guide the force, will help pro­vide the spe­cif­ic task edi­tions and stan­dards that need to be devel­oped, for­mal­ize those and get those into Sol­diers’ hands.”

After train­ing and inte­gra­tion activ­i­ties are com­plete, the next step for NIE 12.2 will be com­mu­ni­ca­tions exer­cise, or COMMEX, activ­i­ties in April, after 2/1 AD for­mal­ly takes pos­ses­sion of the involved vehi­cles and sys­tems. For the first time, NIE 12.2 will con­nect 2/1 AD to a high­er-divi­sion head­quar­ters, being rep­re­sent­ed by the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion oper­at­ing out of Fort Camp­bell, Ky.

NIE oper­a­tions from 2/1 AD 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. Fol­low­ing the NIE, the BMC will con­sol­i­date Sol­dier feed­back and test data into thor­ough assess­ment reports that guide the Army’s deci­sions about the future net­work.

“This NIE will be the first time we have real­ly deployed the tac­ti­cal net­work that we intend as part of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13 on an entire BCT scale,” Mor­ri­son said. “That is a fun­da­men­tal shift in how we’ve ever eval­u­at­ed some­thing before. The Army’s going to get a great look at the entire Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13 archi­tec­ture so we can make smart deci­sions.”

U.S. Army

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