Army must balance tech upgrades with shrinking budgets: Price

Network Integration Evaluation moving forward despite fiscal strain

The Army’s ambitious Network Integration Evaluation is designed to modernize the way it supplies soldiers in the field with the latest technologies, including by identifying capability gaps for industry to plug. For this reason, vendors are invited to semi-annual test and evaluation events at Fort Bliss, Texas, for a chance to see new capabilities in action.

But along with the Army's new network development and acquisition strategies comes a familiar challenge: paying for the new capabilities, especially amid tightening budgets at the Defense Department.

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It’s a hurdle Army Brig. Gen. N. Lee S. Price, program executive officer for command, control and communications (tactical), acknowledged Sept. 23 at an AFCEA Nova event in Vienna, Va.

“[We’re still] codifying the process because we really built this on the fly,” Price said of the NIE, which launched in June. “We do realize that unless we can figure out how we’re going to get the money and actually buy some of these things, industry is not going to continue to offer us technologies because it does cost you money to get your stuff out there for [our consideration].”

For now, acquisition related to network and technology modernization is being funded by existing money already allocated to programs of record. Still, it’s a work in progress and an issue that will need to be worked out moving forward, she noted, possibly by moving away from large-scale defense acquisition programs in favor of smaller pools from which the Army can draw, she said.

“There’s a lot of pressure; there’s a lot of people watching,” she said. And while the restructuring of the Army network strategy is a good thing, the service cannot afford to lose too much time.

“Technology doesn’t wait for anybody,” she said.

Still, she reported progress in the research and development aspects of NIE, noting that sources are being sought for the next iteration of the exercise, slated for an October/November time frame.

Price also highlighted progress in the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical radio program, with the first increment now fielded to 80 percent of active Army soldiers, using 85 percent commercial-off-the-shelf products. The second increment, featuring on-the-move capabilities, is on track to be fielded in fiscal 2012, she said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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