U.S. Army labs prepare systems for Network Integration Evaluation

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — In advance of this spring’s major field exer­cise for the Army’s new tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, engi­neers are putting sys­tems through their paces to ensure a smooth hand­off to the troops con­duct­ing the eva­lu­tions.

In prepa­ra­tion for the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion 12.2, Sol­diers trained on-the-move at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 13, 2012. The con­voys includ­ed Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal Incre­ment 2 Sol­dier Net­work Exten­sions, as shown here.
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The Army is prepar­ing for the Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, or IOT&E, for Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal Incre­ment 2 through risk reduc­tion efforts at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, Md. Pic­tured is a Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Node run­ning real­is­tic mis­sion threads in prepa­ra­tion for the IOT&E, which will take place in May at White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M., in con­junc­tion with the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion 12.2.
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This will be the first Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, for which the Army has used new lab­o­ra­to­ries at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground to con­duct assess­ments and mit­i­gate risk pri­or to an NIE start. Over the last sev­er­al months, that activ­i­ty has nar­rowed the list of gov­ern­ment and indus­try prod­ucts par­tic­i­pat­ing in the field exer­cise, and light­ened the inte­gra­tion bur­den for the Sol­diers and engi­neers who exe­cute the NIE at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M.

The lab-based risk reduc­tion rep­re­sents a key step as the Army imple­ments its new Agile Process for devel­op­ing, test­ing and buy­ing the net­work gear that will con­nect all ech­e­lons of a brigade com­bat team with real-time voice and data, even while mov­ing across the bat­tle­field.

“We’ve got to share infor­ma­tion no mat­ter where we’re at, and it’s got to be rel­e­vant and it’s got to be time­ly,” said Col. John Mor­ri­son, direc­tor of the Army G-3/5/7 Land­War­Net-Bat­tle Com­mand Direc­torate.

“This is a fun­da­men­tal change in the way we are acquir­ing, test­ing, eval­u­at­ing and then field­ing net­work capa­bil­i­ties to our oper­a­tional for­ma­tions,” he added. “This is a change in how we do busi­ness. And like any big change in how you do busi­ness, there are things that are chal­leng­ing to us as we work our way through.”

NIE 12.2, which will take place in May and June, is the third and most sig­nif­i­cant such exer­cise the Army has con­duct­ed. It will equip 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.

The real­is­tic on-the-move mis­sions con­duct­ed by 2/1 AD, along with a high­er head­quar­ters ele­ment of the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion oper­at­ing out of Fort Camp­bell, Ky., will serve to val­i­date and final­ize the com­po­nents of Capa­bil­i­ty Set 13. A bat­tal­ion-sized oppo­si­tion force will be employed in dynam­ic sce­nar­ios with hybrid threats, includ­ing con­ven­tion­al forces, insur­gents and mem­bers of the local pop­u­la­tion.

“We will test the holis­tic net­work in a real­is­tic oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment, the way it’s going to be field­ed,” said Maj. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, pro­gram exec­u­tive offi­cer for Com­mand, Con­trol and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions-Tac­ti­cal, known as PEO C3T. “We will be able to see the oper­a­tional effects of that con­nec­tiv­i­ty.”

Pri­or to receiv­ing a field try­out with Sol­diers, net­work capa­bil­i­ties must pass through the lab­o­ra­to­ries at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground for tech­nol­o­gy eval­u­a­tion, assess­ment and inte­gra­tion. Sys­tems are test­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly and as an inte­grat­ed net­work that repli­cates the struc­ture of what will be field­ed to the 2/1 AD, allow­ing engi­neers to resolve inter­op­er­abil­i­ty issues so Sol­diers can focus on per­for­mance once the equip­ment is deliv­ered for the exer­cise. At pre­vi­ous NIEs, many of these issues had to be worked out on the ground at Fort Bliss and White Sands.

The lab assess­ments are intend­ed to inform the Army’s choic­es on what sys­tems will par­tic­i­pate in the NIE and pro­vide detailed “score cards” to indus­try on how their tech­nolo­gies per­formed and what could be improved in the future. The Agile Process and Capa­bil­i­ty Set Man­age­ment rely on indus­try to pro­pose solu­tions to capa­bil­i­ty gaps, which the Army defines and updates on a reg­u­lar basis to keep up with the pace of tech­nol­o­gy devel­op­ment. The Army is also using the NIEs to estab­lish an inte­grat­ed net­work base­line to ensure com­mon stan­dards for inter­op­er­abil­i­ty.

“We’re not build­ing a radio, but we’re telling indus­try, ‘This is what the radio needs to do, and this is how it fits into the archi­tec­ture, so this is what we need you to go build,’ ” said Jen­nifer Zbozny, chief engi­neer for PEO C3T. “So indus­try brings that piece of equip­ment. and the gov­ern­ment is tak­ing all those prod­ucts and build­ing the glue to make those things work togeth­er.”

Built as part of the recent Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure move of Com­mand, Con­trol, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Com­put­ers, Intel­li­gence, Sur­veil­lance and Recon­nais­sance, known as C4ISR, orga­ni­za­tions to Mary­land, the lab­o­ra­to­ries are linked through direct fiber optic con­nec­tiv­i­ty — cre­at­ing an inte­grat­ed envi­ron­ment for gov­ern­ment and indus­try to mea­sure sys­tem per­for­mance and inter­op­er­abil­i­ty. The facil­i­ties that sup­port the NIE, Agile Process and capa­bil­i­ty set field­ing include set­tings focused on tac­ti­cal radios, satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions, intel­li­gence, mis­sion com­mand appli­ca­tions and the inte­gra­tion of C4ISR equip­ment onto var­i­ous vehi­cle plat­forms.

For NIE 12.2, for exam­ple, more than 100 sys­tem can­di­date white papers were sub­mit­ted to APG labs oper­at­ed by the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions-Elec­tron­ics Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Cen­ter, or CERDEC, dur­ing Phase 1 of the Agile Process. Of those, less than half were select­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the lab tests in Phase 2. Fol­low­ing these eval­u­a­tions, anoth­er small­er sub­set of ven­dor sys­tems were approved to par­tic­i­pate in the actu­al NIE, offi­cials said.

“We’re now spend­ing a lot more time on the ear­li­er phas­es of that Agile Process, doing the can­di­date assess­ments and inte­gra­tion before it actu­al­ly goes out to NIE,” said Seth Spoen­lein, lab direc­tor for CERDEC. “The cam­pus here at APG pro­vides an inte­grat­ed look at what that net­work will be not just for NIE, but also for capa­bil­i­ty set field­ing.”

Some of the lab resources will con­tin­ue to be built out and improve for future NIEs, includ­ing 13.1 this fall, Mor­ri­son said.

“We are nine months into exe­cut­ing the NIE con­struct, and it is a matur­ing process,” he said. “We have turned this ship very quick­ly.”

U.S. Army

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