Army networking efforts begin to see results

Network integration exercises and agile acquisition speed delivery of new technologies to troops

After a major reorganization, the Army's new Agile Acquisition policy is beginning to show results, but more work is needed to streamline the process, a top Army official has said.

The main goal of the policy is to put new networking capabilities into the hands of soldiers, said Col. John Morrison, director of the Army’s LandWarnet/Mission Command. Recent developments in tactical communications and data technologies have given the Army a set of lessons it wants to apply to the rest of its network. “We’re trying to move to a single, secure infrastructure,” he said at the IDGA Network Enabled Operations Conference in Alexandria, Va., on Jan. 25.

To eliminate stovepipes, Morrison said the Army is working closely with industry to align technical standards. Because industry is better suited to provide these capabilities, the service is prompting the private sector to take more responsibility in developing military networks. “The Army has realized that building network capabilities is not our core competency,” he said.

Before the current efforts, the service’s systems were not integrated, Morrison said. Acquisition timelines were long and the burden of integrating new systems and equipment was on commanders. “You would never build a tank the way we build networks,” he said.

To streamline how it developed networks and equipment, the Army created the Capability Set Management process that is now being executed, Morrison said.

For example, the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio program had an acquisition strategy stretching to 2030, which guaranteed its obsolescence. “You knew we were fielding old stuff,” he said.

The Army has now shifted to smaller time horizons, focusing on delivering capability sets in one or two years to quickly introduce technology, Morrison said.

Related to rapidly fielding equipment that meets a set of cross-industry standards is the need to have a single networking architecture, he said. The Army is working on its Common Operating Environment that will create this overarching structure. This March, the Army will publish the Integrated Network Baseline, the guideline for the private sector to participate in the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) and Army networking programs, he said.

A key part of how the Army has changed its acquisition and development cycles for its systems are the NIE events held in the spring and fall at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the nearby White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Morrison said. Now that the first year of NIE events is complete, the service has had time to incorporate lessons learned. The first NIE in spring 2011 ran on the old Future Combat Systems baseline and was intended as a “shock to the system” to get the process running, Morrison said.

The second NIE in the fall of 2011 was the first time the Army ran an integrated network and it also saw the service bringing in industry partners to test their technologies under operational conditions. The upcoming NIE event this April will see 16 industry partners participating, Morrison said.

Several lessons were learned from last fall’s NIE; it was the first time that the Army put together and tested its capability sets at the brigade level. This caused many third-order effects due to the complexity of the network, Morrison said. The unexpected interactions of all these systems made a mess of network operations, he said. For example, there were 32 different, non-integrated network operations tools available to the troops participating in the NIE, causing confusion for many operators on the network.

Another important change brought about by the NIE and the Capability Set Management process is the move away from large programs of record to smaller, more manageable efforts, he said.

The NIE is also a joint event; this fall’s event will see Marine Corps participation. “We don’t see the NIE construct as an Army thing,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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