News: A Day in the Life of NIE (Network Integration Evaluation)
Story by Wanda-Anne Gammell
When the first Network Integration Evaluation was conducted by the Network Integration Triad partners about 16 months ago, “A Day in the Life of NIE” was not even a concept, let alone something that could be predicted. Now, just weeks before embarking on the most important part of the fourth NIE at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, the Triad partners are in the last planning phases for NIE 13.1 that will culminate in the operational field phase from Oct. 15 through Nov. 16.
Triad partners include elements of the Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Operational Test Command, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology System of Systems Integration Office and the Brigade Modernization Command, which is headquartered in Fort Bliss’s Hinman Hall.
As soldiers and civilians in the BMC have participated in past NIEs, they and their Triad partners have developed a process of how to prepare for and conduct these important exercises. NIEs are conducted twice each year and allow soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, attached to the BMC, to evaluate and test new equipment and systems as part of the Army’s modernization program. Now that they have three successes under their belts, they are using a somewhat standardized blueprint for each NIE, providing valuable feedback and recommendations to Department of the Army on which items show promise in filling capability gaps for fielding to the first soldiers who need them.
BMC Chief of Staff Doug Fletcher noted that this NIE, like its predecessors, will be conducted incorporating lessons learned from the previous NIEs, which has made the process run more smoothly. Also, he said, a timeline has emerged, and it increases predictability and greatly aids in the planning process.
The operational field phase of the last NIE ended at the beginning of June, and the NIE 12.2 report was due to DA at the end of that month. Since then, NIE 13.1 planning has been progressing at a brisk pace, although some early tasks were completed even before and during NIE 12.2.
Almost immediately after the last phase of NIE 12.2 ended, the systems which had just been evaluated had to be removed from the 2/1 AD’s vehicles, so that the new systems to be evaluated during the next NIE could be installed in their place. This deinstallation and installation takes place at the Integration Motor Pool on Fort Bliss and is overseen by SoSI.
While deinstallation/installation have been ongoing, 2/1 AD soldiers have worked to attain certification and qualification on all the weapons systems they will be using during NIE 13.1. They have also been participating in New Equipment Training to learn about and become familiar with the new systems they will evaluate. For equipment that will become part of the unit's permanently authorized equipment, this is followed by New Equipment Fielding, when the unit signs for the equipment and its soldiers can begin to train with it and maintain it on a daily basis. NET/NEF began in July with operational energy systems and will continue through most of September.
Currently, the NIE 13.1 timeline is in the phase known as VALEX/ COMMEX, which includes a Validation Exercise and two Communication Exercises. VALEX is conducted to ensure the equipment is properly configured and operational before the 2/1 AD signs for it. It also allows the program managers of the new systems and the vendors who produced them to ensure their systems are operational and interoperable before handing the systems over to the 2/1 AD soldiers for the COMMEX.
The COMMEX is a communications exercise that verifies communication equipment and the network to which it is connected are functioning satisfactorily to support each identified activity. There are two COMMEXes scheduled, one in garrison in the Integration Motor Pool and one in the field from Oct. 15 through 19 at Dona Ana Base Camp.
After the VALEX and COMMEXes have been completed, 2/1 AD soldiers will participate in the Pilot exercise, which is a rehearsal of the final field phase, the meat of the NIE. The final part of the NIE is the “operational exercise that replicates operations in the mountains of Afghanistan,” according to BMC Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Torres.
During this final phase, ATEC/OTC provides data collectors called Observer/Controllers to document how the new systems perform. They collect feedback from the 2/1 AD soldiers who are using the systems and write reports at the end of each day detailing how the systems performed in the tactical scenarios.
According to Maj. William Eldridge from BMC’s Brigade Modernization Integration Division, his division also provides data collectors to interview 2/1 AD soldiers daily and send reports to analysts in the BMC Mission Command Complex. Those analysts use the BMID data collectors’ reports to write system annexes.
“The data collectors go back daily to ensure the analysts understand what the data is saying and assist these guys in writing the annexes,” Eldridge noted. The annexes then become part of the BMC report to DA with recommendations on the value of the systems.
Eldridge explained that the equipment/systems soldiers will be using fall into three primary categories, including Systems Under Test (SUT), which will be undergoing a strictly-controlled series of tasks conducted by engineers from the OTC; Systems Under Evaluation (SUE), those that have shown promise for meeting previously identified capability gaps; and special evaluations on items identified by DA objectives.
"An example of a SUT from NIE 12.2 is the WIN-T, Increment 2, which is an integrated set of satellite and terrestrial radio systems and IP network infrastructure,” according to Lt. Col. Lawrence Karl from BMC’s Network Integration Division. WIN-T, Inc 2, he said, “is designed to extend network communications supporting Mission Command to company level on the battlefield, even while units, their commanders and key staff are on the move."
Currently 22 new systems will be under evaluation in NIE 13.1, and they include many items in the major categories of Mission Command on the Move and Operational Energy.
Eldridge also pointed out that the length of the planning period for each NIE is based on whether it is focused on company/platoon level, as the NIE 13.1 is (traditionally conducted in the fall), or on brigade/battalion level, as the NIE 12.2 was (generally conducted in the spring). The planning period for NIEs that are focused on the lower-level units is about 16 to 18 weeks; for the higher-level unit focused NIEs, the planning period is about six months. Of this time period, soldiers from the 2/1 AD are directly involved in the execution phases for about five weeks for company/platoon-level NIEs and about seven to eight weeks for brigade/battalion-level NIEs, according to Torres.
The importance of the role 2/1 AD soldiers play during NIEs and in Army modernization cannot be overemphasized, according to Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, former BMC commander and now U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Deputy Commanding General, Futures, and Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center. He stated during a recent visit to BMC, “The 2/1 AD has a greater strategic impact on the Army than any other brigade in the Army.”
A typical day—if there is such a thing--in the life of NIE depends on many things, such as where in the planning process you are, to which of the Triad organizations you are assigned and what your duty position is. If you are a soldier in the 2/1AD, most of your days will involve training on and learning the new systems, evaluating and testing them and then providing honest feedback on how they performed in a tactical scenario environment. At the end of the day, you can rest assured that what you do will have a lasting and profound affect on the future of the Army.