Army Acquisition Transformation in Full Swing

March 2012
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine


Paratroopers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, use Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) radios to communicate during a field exercise. The JTRS Rifleman Radio was tested at the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.1.

Leaders make decisions from the results of the first two rounds of new test events.

The U.S. Army’s plan to revolutionize its approach to integrating advancements into the network is on track, according to senior leaders. These Network Integration Evaluations designed to facilitate this assimilation already have yielded results, offering a glimpse into the technology of the future and how soldiers will use it. Next on the schedule is the 12.2 iteration that begins later this month and will mark the beginning of the crawl and walk phases of the plan.

Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) 11.2 and 12.1 took place last summer and fall. Col. (P) John Morrison, USA, director G-3/5/7 LandWarNet Battle Command, explains that the second one marked the first time the Army really brought together the capabilities that will be relevant from commanders on the move all the way down to the soldier level. “I’ll tell you, what we learned was integration’s tough,” he states. Because of the complexity of the network, soldiers grapple with the challenge of integrating kit onto platforms as well as how to perform technical integration and how a formation will operate. “We’re not doing things down range; we’re doing it here and seeing what it looks like,” Col. Morrison explains.

Companies who want to sell the Army network products must come onboard with the new process. Col. Morrison says that the standing position of the Army “is if it’s a network capability, it will run through the NIE construct so we make sure we’ve got it right and integrated appropriately before we move forward to fielding it to operational units.”

Col. (P) Dan Hughes, USA, director of the Army’s System of Systems Integration Directorate, says his number one takeaway from 12.1 was the initial experience of industry participating at its own expense to evaluate a product in the NIE and receiving feedback directly from soldiers. Normally, he explains, projects take five to seven years of work before troops interact with new technology. With the NIE, that time reduces to months, with industry paying for installation and providing field service representatives. “That’s a big change from what we were doing,” Col. Hughes states.

Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, USA, commander of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command (BMC), concurs with the assessments of the colonels, adding that a benefit of the NIE is the ability to integrate technologies physically and conceptually and into the operational context. He emphasizes that the Army is not simply after materiel solutions but all of the other aspects of full integration of capabilities across the spectrum of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities (DOTMLPF). “I’m trying to educate and inform others that this NIE has the potential to look across the wide range,” Gen. Dragon says. “In fact, that’s what our evaluators look for.”

During NIE 12.1, the Army had three primary focus areas. The first was mission command on the move, which was facilitated through the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 system. This technology provides communications on the move down to the company level. The second focus area involved delivering information to the tactical edge, or down to the soldier at the small-unit leader level, in many cases by using low-bandwidth radios or handheld devices. The third focus was a risk mitigation effort for 12.2 to bring WIN-T Increment 2 online and ensure it could operate effectively in a tactical field environment.

Gen. Dragon says evaluators saw benefits from some of the handheld devices in play. Participants tested eight handheld configurations, which allowed them not only to see fellow soldiers but also to communicate with formatted text capabilities so they could pass information without using voice communications. In some cases, they could access full-motion video from aerial platforms.

WIN-T Increment 2 provided on-the-move communications from a widely expanded number of nodes, Gen. Dragon explains. At the brigade level, the Army previously could use 11 nodes to see and command forces. With the new systems, it could put command posts in tactical vehicles and expand the network out to 48 nodes.


Soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, collaborate using mission command applications inside a tactical operations center during NIE 12.1. The evaluations are changing how the Army acquires network technologies and fields them to the fighting force. 

After each NIE, the BMC releases a report with its DOTMLPF recommendations. Currently, Col. Morrison’s organization is coordinating those recommendations across Army staff, and decisions will be based on them. The colonel says it generally takes about 60 days to complete that process. During the 12.1 event, one capability performed well enough that the Army soon will release a draft request for proposal for it. Because of the rules of the contracting process, officials would not specify the technology.

In January, the Army Training and Doctrine Command conducted a synchronization conference to look at the DOTMLPF feedback and isolate specific doctrinal or leader development training requirements. Gen. Dragon explains that moving forward the Army will develop an action plan to prepare for the materiel fielding of evolving technologies. Institutional training systems and doctrinal systems also will be aligned so that when solutions arrive, leaders will have the training to use them in a tactical environment to increase mission effectiveness.

Determining the best technologies and methods for use will become a more complex effort as the NIEs continue to grow. In 11.2, six programs of record and 29 systems under evaluation, which are essentially emerging technologies, were evaluated. In 12.1, two systems were under test, but 47 were under evaluation. For the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, this meant integrating 49 systems in a three-month period and putting them into a tactical context. “I think that’s deserving of an honorable mention because it was a monumental issue,” Gen. Dragon states. The unit is dedicated to the NIE mission, evaluating technologies from across the ranks that make it up. It reflects standard brigade combat teams with a mix of new soldiers and combat veterans.

For NIE 12.2, the Army will incorporate several new features into the evaluations. A division-level headquarters unit will take part in the form of the 101st Airborne Division operating out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky; the bulk of the NIEs takes place at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. NIE 12.2 will operate in a classified environment with secure data connections for the first time, linking to the 101st Airborne to replicate the environment in which the capabilities will be fielded.

Another difference will be the operational status of the network objective, which allows for a more fluid operating environment. Col. Morrison explains that, “You’ll see brigade, battalion and company command posts physically relocate during the exercise … [we’ll] have more of a dynamic controlled free-play exercise where we’ll be against a hybrid threat and a very unpredictable environment.”

NIE 12.2 also is the first time the entire participating brigade will be outfitted with Capability Set 13, the first integrated group of network technologies to be fielded to as many as eight brigade combat teams starting in 2013. Col. Morrison says that the Army would like to start fielding that set about four to five months after the NIE ends. “So you can see the linkage between what we’re doing in NIE and with capability set management,” he states.

In addition, 12.2 marks the establishment of the integrated network baseline, the technical standards that give industry an aim point for understanding what it must do to fit into the Army’s network. “That is absolutely huge because when we move to 13.1, we will start making changes to that integrated baseline but at the margins,” Col. Morrison says. No longer will the Army look for large programs of record to satisfy gaps. Instead, it will search for how to modify or improve the baseline already in place or to provide an operational capability. The Army seeks solutions to deliver technical advancement more quickly. As an example of the past, Col. Morrison says that the Army had plans to buy a data radio in an effort that stretched through 2030. “So we knew before we started that we’d be buying antiquated equipment,” he explains.

The Army can adjust off the baseline to integrate new technologies more efficiently. For example, if routers improve, the service branch can incorporate the enhanced technology into the next NIE, then procure it as quickly as possible. Col. Hughes says that, “We’re looking at industry on a regular basis on multiple fronts to bring technology and capability to the NIE to adjust that baseline going forward.”

Though the NIEs are Army-focused and Army-led, the three leaders all agree that a joint outlook is a key to real success. Col. Morrison says, “We don’t see this as just an Army approach. We see this as a joint approach because the network is inherently joint.” Gen. Dragon echoes the sentiment, stressing that Marines, sailors, airmen and members of the Coast Guard all have the opportunity to benefit from the NIEs. The Marine Corps will send a contingent to observe NIE 12.2 and to determine how it can actively participate in the fall at NIE 13.1.

Leading up to 12.2, the Army will evaluate materiel in laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. “The more we can do upfront so we don’t have to do it later on is of value to us,” Col. Hughes says. Success in the various evaluations is not based on total acceptance by soldiers but on advancement of capability. For example, one program of record tested in the NIEs is the Nett Warrior Program, which provides command, control and communications to the individual soldier level. During the first event, soldiers connected handheld devices into data Rifleman Radios, teaching program officials that their requirements for Nett Warrior were incorrect. Approximately six weeks later, the Army revised the requirements and restructured the program, then provided the new capability for the last NIE.

To help industry, the Army puts out Sources Sought guidance, detailing gaps and what industry can do to fill them, and it holds industry days. Gen. Dragon says more than 1,000 gaps exist that the NIE could address, but resource constraints demand focus on what the Army identifies as having the highest payoff. He expects that as the Army solidifies mission command supported by a communications network, it will move on to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities during the NIEs in fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Officials will figure out what different echelons will have as their standard kit and what they will rely on others to provide.

The Sources Sought and other industry outreach efforts help companies better direct their support of troops. Officials are responding to reports from the private sector that the Army does a poor job of informing contractors about what it needs. Col. Morrison explains that the Sources Sought helps the Army articulate what it wants from industry and how companies can best invest their limited research and development dollars if they want to do business with soldiers. The Army also wants to take advantage of industry innovation, building into the NIE construct an opportunity to showcase operational capabilities the military has not yet considered.

Gen. Dragon says that as industry becomes more familiar with how the Army is organizing and orchestrating its Agile Process, soldiers will look for companies’ best technological solutions. According to the Army, the phased Agile Process “is an effort to procure critical capabilities in a more rapid manner while ensuring technical maturity and integration synchronization.” Gen. Dragon states that industry needs an awareness of how the Agile Process is being put into motion, realizing the Army is still early in process, and that companies must anticipate the types of technology gaps so they can offer the solutions to fill them. Returning to his emphasis on the entire DOTMLPF spectrum, he says the Army has to examine how new technologies can change the way the Army operates and how it affects the ability to maneuver forces, to see friends and foes and to affect operational environments. The technologies “will change the way that we fight,” Gen. Dragon says.

WIN-T Increment 2:
Brigade Combat Team Modernization:



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