Army sees big pay off from field integration test

Military service schedules three more tests

The Army’s modernization process includes strategies that ensure that when warfighters get equipment, it’s up to date and can easily be integrated with the existing communications infrastructure. The Army recently ran its first large-scale field integration test, the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE), which was so successful that three more tests are already scheduled.

Some of the observations from that exercise were discussed during a LandWarNet 2011 panel, “Delivering the Network to the Tactical Edge — A New Way of Doing Business” Aug. 23. Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, who directed the NIE, opened the panel by discussing some of the rationales behind the operation.

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“Many people said we shouldn’t test the equipment before it was ready, but we need to settle for 70 percent to 80 percent solutions and improve it,” said Bowman, who is director of the architecture, operations, networks and space directorate at the Army CIO.

“They also said we were spending millions of dollar on the NIE, but one group said they saved $5 million by doing this all at once. If we spot a program that needs to be changed to help warfighters, the payback will come for years,” Bowman continued.

Among the NIE’s goals were ensuring that equipment is ready to use in the field. In the past, some programs sent to warfighters have not been ready to integrate, so personnel in the field had to figure out how to deploy the gear effectively.

“In the past, we did everything in individual programs, nothing was synchronized. In the NIE, we did our tests in one place to make sure everything was integrated,” said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army’s LandWarNet-Battle Command Directorate.

He noted that for the military to continue to stay ahead of its adversaries, industry will need to play a key role. This was a common theme throughout the conference in Tampa, Fla.

“We get to bring industry in, that’s absolutely critical,” Morrison said. “We want to focus your [research and development] dollars into technology we can use.”

The actual operation has been in the planning for quite some time. The Army’s goal was to create a realistic situation where it could find out what worked and what needed more work.

“The 12,000-square kilometers where we did the test pretty much mirrors the landscape of Afghanistan,” said Col. Dan Pinnell, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.

The leaders touched on some of the issues that need to be worked out. Along with the weight of the equipment, they noted that electronics can be “seen” by foes.

“If we’re going to hang equipment on our young soldiers, we’ve got to realize that every one of those systems is an emitter,” Pinnell said. “Adversaries can take a 1992 computer and get a good idea of where our forces are.”

The proposed rapid pace of change also raises questions about making sure that warfighters know how to effectively use the equipment. “One challenge is how to train and sustain proficiency once we get a number of systems out there,” said Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of the Army Brigade Modernization Command.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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