Network strategy helps Army cross budget minefield

The Army’s Network Integration Evaluation, a semi-annual exercise that kicked off in July, is more than just a way to test and develop technologies and capabilities – it’s also being used to address budget pressures and improve the acquisition process.

NIE is changing the way the Army supplies its soldiers, including by revolutionizing the ways the Army tests, develops and fields its wares. According to a panel of Army officials speaking Sept. 27 at an AFCEA DC event in Arlington, Va., the strategy will help guide tough decision-making certain to come up as defense budgets shrink.

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The piece-by-piece approach, which is being done in capability sets that develop, test, evaluate and field mature technologies incrementally, will help decision-makers better understand the bigger Army picture and allow the service to cut more selectively rather than taking across-the-board funding away from programs, said Col. Anthony Williams, chief, Battle Command Division, G-8.

“What the Army’s trying to do now is build a baseline. Once we have the details and full Army picture we’ll be able to better [understand] ... so that when the time comes we will have our plan going into the budget process,” Williams said. 

“With an integrated baseline we can go back through a program ... we can see the full Army story and the full Army strategy. Now we have a cohesive plan and our new network strategy that we can use as we go through the process of making decisions," he added.

It’s also helping the Army modernize the way it acquires and deploys technology and capabilities – faster and in smaller increments that better match up with the fast pace of technological evolution and evolving commercial standards.

“This is not about just aligning our programs of record and making sure we have that right. ... This is about establishing that technical baseline, aligning what we’re doing as close to industry as we possibly can and leveraging [that] innovation,” said Col. John Morrison, director of Army LandWarNet/Battle Command. “What it’s really allowing us to do is, from muzzle to butt plate, take a look at the acquisition process.”

In addition, the Army is additionally examining its requirements processes as part of its acquisition reform. When asked if there’s enough flexibility built into budgets and acquisition strategy to accommodate the strains of budget stress and technological advancement, Williams acknowledged the Army is behind but said it’s a work in progress.

“Those are initiatives we are taking on right now. We are very specific in our [requirements] ... we need to stop being so specific that we paint ourselves into a box,” Williams said. “We want to move more toward common items to address the Chinese menu-type approach. I’m trying to get away from programs of records ... technology changes so fast. For me to keep up, I need to do those calculated [incremental] modernization and increases in capabilities,” he added.

The Army is also coordinating with the other services to move toward Defense Department-wide standards that better facilitate the joint environment, according to Army CIO/G-6 Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence.

“Part of our update is looking at, ‘how does this fit in with the joint environment?’ Everything must do that. Ms. [Teri] Takai, our DOD CIO, Gen. [William] Lord, the Air Force CIO and Mr. [Terry] Halvorsen, the Navy CIO – there is no air between us,” Lawrence said, explaining how close she is collaborating with her counterparts. “We need to get to a unified, single standard across the network. The enemy is not going to attack just the Army,” she added.

And according to Morrison, the Army’s new approach isn’t going away.

“This is not a science project. This can’t be a one-shot deal. ... Think about how much opportunity we’ll miss if it’s a one-shot deal,” Morrison said. “We see this as something systemic and part of how we deliver capabilities from now on.”

About the Author

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

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