FORT BLISS, Texas - As preparations for the Army's Network Integration Evaluation 13.1 kick into high gear, soldiers, engineers, combat developers and test officials have joined forces at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to provide full-time support to what will be the fourth iteration in a series of semi-annual field exercises designed to further integrate and mature the Army's tactical network, and accelerate the way network technologies are delivered to soldiers through integrated "capability sets" of communications gear.
NIE 13.1 will take place in October and November 2012, and be conducted by the 3,800 soldiers of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. As was done with the first three NIEs, NIE 13.1 will be managed by a group known as the NIE “TRIAD” – the Army Test and Evaluation Command, the Brigade Modernization Command and the System of Systems Integration Directorate.
NIE 13.1 will conduct several program tests for record, additional tests for record from distributed sites, and less formally evaluate more than 20 industry and government capabilities, called Systems Under Evaluation. The incorporation of theses SUEs in NIE 13.1 resulted from pairing down more than 140 capability submissions using formal white paper evaluations and assessing potential candidates in government laboratories prior to the start of NIE integration.
NIE 13.1 will help establish an early look at the Capability Set 14 network baseline, building upon the CS 13 network architecture that was validated during NIE 12.2 in May and June 2012.
Key NIE 13.1 network-related goals include initial evaluations of the CS 14 network baseline, integration and assessment of CS 14 onto heavy vehicle platforms, evaluate Mid Tier Radio waveforms, continued Network Operations convergence, assessments of Operations-Intelligence application convergence, continue to establish the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance baseline, evaluate command post capabilities, and provide and integrate Mission Command capabilities.
To date, all 44 Golden Vehicles for NIE 13.1 have been built at the Integration Motor Pool, located at Fort Bliss. Golden Vehicle designs standardize the configuration of different combinations of network equipment on various platforms in preparation for configuring the entire fleet. In August, SoSI began building the fleet vehicles. All 375 fleet vehicles are slated for completion in early September.
“The pace of the NIEs is brisk,” said Col. Gail Washington, Project Manager Current, SoSI. “With one NIE executed every six months and others simultaneously in various stages of planning, risk reduction and follow-up, the coordination effort among multiple Army organizations, industry partners and soldiers is truly monumental. Applying lessons learned from NIE 12.2 has allowed us to streamline our integration efforts going into NIE 13.1.”
While SoSI is building the vehicles to be utilized in NIE 13.1, 2/1 AD soldiers have been simultaneously completing Warfighter Information Network-Tactical refresher training courses, as well as New Equipment Training for Nett Warrior, which will undergo its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation as part of NIE 13.1.
“The biggest challenge is balancing brigade requirements aligned with the Army Force Generation [ARFORGEN] process, along with brigade training requirements, while simultaneously building the vehicles utilized during each NIE,” said Lt. Col. Keith Taylor, SoSI product manager Capability Package Integration.
Currently, SoSI, with support from ATEC, BMC and 2/1 AD is participating in VALEX, a four-week-long exercise designed to "load" the network throughout the Brigade and set the stage for developers and brigade staff to validate its functionality. Each week-long portion of the exercise incorporates an increased number of systems, soldiers and evaluation intensity than the previous week.
“We’re loading roughly 1,800 systems during VALEX,” said Taylor. “The integration work is intense. Everyone thinks about the major systems involved in each NIE, but they don’t realize we have to install, integrate and validate every radio on every system undergoing test and evaluation prior to the exercise.”
To complete this integration, approximately 600 cables have been produced and recorded, totaling roughly 1.2 miles of cabling with various connectors on both ends. Many of the cables used for NIE 12.2 are being reused for NIE 13.1.
“During the 12.2 cycle, we produced more than 2,200 cables for NIE and another 400 for the WIN-T portion,” said Taylor. “Averaging that out at 10 feet per cable, you are looking at four plus miles of cabling for the NIE alone.”
Taylor oversees the NIE trail bosses, a group of Army acquisition officers who serve as a link between 2/1 AD and the acquisition, training and test communities. The trail bosses develop and lead a team of engineering, logistics, test, information assurance, resource management and combat development personnel to resolve issues associated with the integration of hardware and software systems, addressing both employment and operation.
The trail boss role is critical to the NIE process because these officers provide subject matter expertise and advice to their supported unit on the integration, issue, training, operation, maintenance and employment of the systems being evaluated in the NIEs. The trail bosses work with the appropriate integrated product teams, or IPTs, to ensure user concerns for integration, training, operation and support are addressed, while ensuring the networked systems provide seamless communication throughout the brigade.
The planning phase of VALEX will define and design the network requirements using Information Exchange Requirements prioritized by Department of the Army objectives, TRADOC capability gaps and system objectives. In the preparation phase known as LOADEX, the systems will undergo hardware and software integration. Lastly, during the execution phase, 2/1 AD will operate the network with all systems configured and tested at the individual system level, but scheduled as independent company, battalion headquarters and brigade headquarters events.
The Army is applying several lessons learned from NIE 12.2 in order to refine NIE processes, streamline testing and upfront integration, increase industry participation, and reduce individual system costs, re-engineering costs and infrastructure costs. These concepts and other NIE lessons learned – such as system of systems training for soldiers – are also being applied to NIE 13.1, and to CS 13 fielding.
As was done for the previous NIEs, Army engineers are conducting significant up-front integration at Fort Bliss in order to decrease the integration burden on 2/1 AD soldiers during 13.1 operations at WSMR.
“This is truly a team effort,” said Washington. “The personnel involved in this effort make each NIE a success because they are willing to put aside their organizational allegiances for the sake of a better-integrated solution for the soldier. Everyone recognizes the importance of remaining flexible as the NIE process continues to evolve. I don’t think we could ask for a more professional group of people to assist in executing this mission.”