What's behind the Army's first purchase of radios vetted by the NIE

The Army is on track to make its first “agile process” buy stemming from lessons learned during the recent Network Integration Evaluations (NIE) as it readies to award contracts for single-channel, vehicle-mounted radios this October, according to service officials.

Awards for the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) Appliqué radios represent the first major purchase from a new acquisition strategy that largely leaves industry responsible for research and development. The term appliqué is used in reference to add-on capabilities, Army officials said.

"In the case of the SRW Appliqué, we are essentially adding the SRW capability to existing SINCGARS VRC-92 installations," said Brian Baroni, the Army’s deputy product manager for network systems.

The radios will give voice and data connectivity to platoon-level soldiers all the way to upper tactical levels, a capability soldiers in NIE deemed vital for combat connectivity. “The whole NIE process is a response to slower procurement cycles,” said Army Maj. Kenneth O’Donnell, agile process implementation officer. “I see that as a huge win for the Army and the acquisition corps.”

The Army received 10 responses to its sources-sought notice issued in February, about half of which were considered to be potential candidates, Baroni said. “We haven’t taken a look at all these candidates, but their responses indicated that they had potential hardware, experience with the waveform and experience with the certification,” he said.

Capitalizing off that industry experience is saving the military money.

“With the SRW Appliqué, there was always interest out there, but what the NIE did is it allowed the venders to bring their candidate appliqués out to the field, demonstrate their performance and demonstrate their operability,” Baroni said. “This is still military-grade hardware, but we haven’t expended time and dollars in developing it. The vendors have done this, and now they will likely improve upon this equipment without us expending dollars,” he added.

While this process has shaved years off the conventional military acquisition timeline, not all procedural contracting hurdles can or should be removed, according to the agile process officer.

“Barring the challenges that exist already in the defense acquisition management system, which is one of the reasons we looked at this agile process and this technology insertion opportunity, we’re still going to have to overcome some of those barriers,” O’Donnell said. “There are a lot of them we’re not going to overcome that we’re still going to have to meet because they get at the interoperability of our systems, the sustainment of our systems, the safety of our soldiers and the available bandwidth and spectrum that we have to operate in.”

The necessary National Security Agency certification, for example, is one element that cannot be circumvented and can take upwards of a year, he said.

“We’re getting better as we go, and I think the SRW Appliqué RFP is a huge example of that,” O’Donnell said. “Even if you look at the award in October, the SRW Appliqué has gone through the agile process, participated in an exercise that ended in November 2011, and we’ll have systems on contract less than a year later to be fielded into our integrated network.”

While the Army intends to buy about 5,000 SRW Appliqué radios, the initial delivery order will fall short of that number, according to Baroni. “It will be limited to the funding that we currently have on hand and will be limited to the first few brigades that we plan on fielding in [Capability Set 13],” Baroni said. The order could also grow should there be interest from the Marine Corps or Navy, who would be able to buy off the Army’s contract, he added.

For soldiers in the field, the SRW Appliqué radio capability cannot come too soon. Simultaneously with fielding of the vehicle-mounted radios, the Army will be fielding two-pound Rifleman Radios to be carried by soldiers all the way down to the team level, and will allow linking capabilities with handheld devices for data transmission.

“The appliqué allows the soldier to connect back to the vehicles and then make their way back up into the network,” Baroni said. “This bridges the soldier to the network.”

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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