Army to field-test mature battlefield networks
Scenarios will replicate combat situations in Afghanistan-like setting
- By Barry Rosenberg
- Jun 15, 2011
Col. Richard Juergens is deputy commander of the Army Brigade Modernization Command (BMC), the new name for the Future Force Integration Directorate, and he is responsible for integrating new network and communications technologies in Army vehicles and testing them.
He recently spoke to Defense Systems Staff Writer Henry Kenyon and Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about this summer’s Network Integration Exercise (NIE) that kicked off the first week of June at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (WSMR).
Also sitting in on the conversation was Col. John Wendel, deputy program executive officer for network integration at the Program Executive Office for Integration. (Photos by Barry Rosenberg)
DS: A key player in the ongoing NIE is the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division that is attached to BMC. I’ve been calling them the Army Evaluation Task Force (AETF), but you say that’s not exactly correct.
Juergens: Well, AETF is a mission; it’s not an organization. So the organization is 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. That’s important to remember as we go forward because what the Army has done is dedicate one of its combat brigades to this mission.
DS: I thought that maybe they were an organization always responsible for conducting the testing at Fort Bliss and WSMR.
Juergens: They are not. If I may contrast, this may help a little bit. There was an AETF in our former life under Future Combat Systems. It was the 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, but it was a made-up organization. It had 1,100 people in it, and every year, we would kind of move people around to make sure we could do the evaluation that was required.
I contrast that with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, which is a Heavy Brigade Combat Team from 1st Armored Division…an [Army Forces Command] unit that has been attached to us for the evaluation. They will be attached for two years, and we’ll go through an evaluation cycle. Then the Army will have to decide whether or not they’re going to attach a different brigade or take another option. But the important thing is regardless because it is a FORSCOM brigade with turnover and a regular rotation of personnel every summer.
DS: So it’s just a regular brigade? It’s not just made up of experienced soldiers used to doing this sort of job?
Juergens: When you’re evaluating, it’s important to have that full range of new soldiers, which any organization is going to have, and then soldiers with combat experience, which any organization is going to have. Now, there are some things that we’ve done from a task organization perspective with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division to make sure that we cover full spectrum operations. In its normal configuration, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division would have a cavalry squadron. It would have two Combined Arms Battalions that are equipped with tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
[To replicate the] MRAP-equipped Infantry Brigade Combat Teams that are fighting in Afghanistan now, we’ve taken one of those two Combined Arms Battalions and equipped it as an MRAP-equipped infantry battalion. It’s important that it hasn’t lost its heavy Brigade Combat Team pedigree.
We’ve just task-organized it in such a way that we can get at full spectrum operations. And when I say full spectrum operations, I’m primarily talking about counterinsurgency, where the primary mission set is wide area security.
DS: What’s the job of the soldiers in 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division: to break the equipment? Or is it already matured to the point where it’s more fine-tuning?
Juergens: Our job is to employ the capabilities in a replicative operating environment. So if it breaks, we’re going to take a note of that, but we’re not out there trying to break it. There’s a technical maturity to what we’re evaluating this summer that in most cases should be beyond a situation where we’re breaking things all the time.
We’ll learn some things, but here is the key. When you look at the map, you see that we have a unit north in the 8,000-foot mountains and valleys, very much like mountains and valleys in Afghanistan. Two hundred and seventy five kilometers to the south, we have another battalion in more conventional operation. The battalion headquarters is commanding and controlling organizations doing different things over that distance.
I mentioned earlier that the former AETF had about 1,100 folks. Well, the brigade that’s gone to the field this summer is almost 3,800 folks with all their equipment spread out in a 275x55 kilometer block. So our job is to employ these capabilities in a realistic situation, and we’re going to be running mission sets. There is going to be a thinking, live [operation]. We’re not scripting their every move, so as much as we can we’re replicating combat.
DS: How do you determine whether this exercise is successful? If you have 29 nodes [vehicles with JTRS radios and other networking gear] and only three-quarters work properly, is that successful?
Juergens: It’s a two-part answer. The first part of my answer is that for the programs of record, success is that we do a by-the-book evaluation of those capabilities that are heading toward an acquisition decision. So we have got to do that. There’s a test and evaluation master plan for each of those systems and it has certain requirements. So success, No. 1 is meeting all those.
Wendel: I would state it differently. I’m almost 100 percent in agreement with Rich, but to me, it’s did the Army answer the questions. Obviously we want them all to work because a lot of taxpayer dollars have been invested in these systems. But for us, it’s kind of let’s get the accurate operational material feedback from ATEC on the programs of record, supplemented by the Brigade Modernization Command with the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities, and get a holistic look at those systems to inform acquisitions. So we’re almost saying the same thing, but you’ve got to answer those questions that are stipulated in the test augmentation stipulated for each of those programs of record.
Juergens: At the end of the day did the capability perform as it was supposed to perform?
Wendel: And if we didn’t collect enough data and it did, it’s an unsuccessful test. That’s the nuance. So a PM guy is going to answer that different than a Training and Doctrine Command guy. If you have a perfect test and you didn’t get the data to substantiate it, you have nothing other than qualitative feedback. We got to take qualitative and quantitative objective feedback, marry the two and make the case to a very high-level threshold of convincing when you get in the Pentagon. You have to influence decision makers in this economy that those sacred tax dollars should be spent because that capability is needed in theater.
DS: What was the second part of your answer?
Juergens: There is a second aspect to this evaluation that will also define success. The other important thing that we have to do this summer is we have to take the first steps with everything from designing the unit, training the unit, making sure that the [various command involved in the NIE] are working together and that our processes and the procedures are straight. We have to make sure we take that good first step as we build the Army’s capability to do an integrated evaluation.
So what am I saying? Some things are not going to work this summer, but that’s OK because the Army’s goal was to do this in October of 2012, a year and a half from now. What we realized is that if we didn’t put this first event on the calendar to start getting the unit equipped and trained, we’ll never get to the November 2012 event. So this is Step 1.
DS: What are the acquisition advantages to doing an integrated evaluation of these systems?
Juergens: We’re getting away from Ground Mobile Radio being tested at Fort Huachuca, Rifleman Radio being tested down at Fort Benning, and HMS being tested at Fort Campbell. I would like to add a couple of thoughts with respect to the operational reason for doing this.
Here is the reality. The Army is fielding modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE) to a brigade, its base set of equipment. That unit deploys to theater and it falls in on top of a set of theater-provided equipment, much of it network related. And then during their year downrange, evolving capabilities often get pushed forward. So you had this unit that’s MTOE equipped, falls in on a theater provided equipment (TPE) network and then emerging capabilities come in on top of that. There’s a lot of learning going on downrange. And in most cases that’s not where you want learning to be happening.
So the operational advantage to what we’re doing is we’re taking an MTOE equipped brigade. We’re equipping it with TPE and emerging equipment. We’re going to learn at Fort Bliss, so we don’t have to learn downrange.
Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.