News Column

Network Integration Evaluation 14.1

January 1, 2014

Gourley, Scott R

During an overview on the fielding of the Army's tactical network presented at the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, LTG Keith Walker, director of the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center, likened the semiannual Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process to "hydraulics."

"It's a bit like putting the network under pressure," he said. "When you put hydraulics under pressure, you can look for leaks. The Network Integration Evaluations, by putting all of this equipment in an operational context, serve as a 'forcing function' so that we can see where the leaks are and fix them."

Building on an early foundation of limited user testing by the Army's former Enhanced Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bliss, Texas, the Army has conducted six sequential NIE forcing functions. The most recent of these events, NIE 14.1 (the first NIE of fiscal year 2014), was held in October and November 2013 at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Like previous NIEs, 14.1 encompassed a combination of three systems under test (SUTs), 18 systems under evaluation (SUEs), a handful of carryover activities and more than a dozen demonstration efforts. In addition, a first unit equipped element from the U.S. Marine Corps participated with the Joint Battle Command Platform (JBCP).

The three SUTs included AN/PRC-117G (operational testing), Command Post of the Future (limited user testing) and Joint Warning and Reporting Network (follow-on testing).

The 18 SUEs, selected for evaluation against specifically identified operational capability gaps, were: Efficient Mobile Support Infrastructure; Secure Wireless Distribution System; MaxxPro Mobile Integrated Command Post with On Board Vehicle Power; JBCP Advanced Networking Capabilities; Airspace Management Environment; Winch Aerostat Small Platform; Networked Air-Ground Integration; Aerial Layer Network Extension; aerial command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Payload Suite; Roamer Net; Integrated Soldier Power and Data System-Tactical Engagement Simulation System; Intelligent Power Technology; One Man Flex Fuel Portable one- and two-kilowatt (kW) generators; and five different tactical routers.

Roamer Net, for example, is an initiative from the Program Executive Office for Aviation to look at utilizing the existing platoon AN/PRC-155 Manpack Radio and its technical capability to perform cross-banding of Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and Soldier Radio Waveform nets in the communications integration of air and ground forces.

Another SUE example, Intelligent Power Technology, consists of five trailers designed to power an entire brigade combat team. Four of the trailers carry dual generator sets: two with pairs of 60-kW generators and two with pairs of 33-kW generators. The fifth trailer carries a 20-kW variablespeed generator and battery storage system.

According to Dave Hampton, synchronized communications and engagements officer at Brigade Modernization Command (BMC), one of the many benefits of the NIE process is the Army's opportunity to "learn as it goes, in terms of how to add value to the evaluations so that the return on investment seems to improve and increase every time."

Hampton emphasized the critical importance of the "Network Integration Triad"-BMC/U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) System of Systems Integration; and U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command/ Operational Test Command-as well as support by G-3/5/7 LandWarNet Mission Command in the success of the NIE process.

"Although each organization approaches the NIE from a different perspective, we do this together," he said. "Otherwise, we couldn't pull this thing off."

Shifting to the operational perspective of BMC, he said, "NIE 14.1 continues to reinforce some things that we have done in the past. The whole idea behind these integration evaluations is to reduce the burden on the operators, and as we begin to draw down in Afghanistan, we will lose that in-theater ability whereby units could [look at] equipment. ... But now, the Brigade Modernization Command and the [2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD)] Brigade Combat Team become a very important innovative laboratory for new systems."

2/1 AD is a deployable brigade on assignment to support the Army's modernization strategy through the NIE process and related activities.

"There's always been a materiel focus on NIEs because we're trying to identify new technologies, capabilities and systems," Hampton said, "but we are also putting a full court press across DOTMLPF [doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities] domains because it's more than just the materiel solutions. We are looking at reducing the burden on the operating force."

Adding that 14.1 "also begins to set conditions for Capability Set (CS) 15 development and fielding," he said, "We're working [CS] 14 now, but as we finish up this year we are going to start looking at what 'Cape Set 15' might look like. And we are always looking at how we can make these NIEs more efficient, more effective and lower cost."

In addition to "setting the conditions" for CS 15, another critical focus of NIE 14.1 was to help set the conditions for NIE 14.2, planned for this spring. Significant milestones for NIE 14.2 will be its status as the first joint/multinational evaluation event. Aligned with the Bold Quest initiative, 14.2 is expected to include significantly expanded participation by the Marine Corps as well as participation by military elements from both the United Kingdom and Italy.

Out in the field at the 2/1 AD tactical operations center (TOC), MAJ Chris Lane, brigade executive officer, highlighted "the uniqueness of this brigade, which includes its composite nature-Abrams, Bradleys, MRAPs, Strykers, and both towed M777A2 howitzers and M109A6 Paladins- and the fact that we sustain it all. When the first brigade received [CS] 13, we sent 'fly-away' teams to help train other brigades on that equipment as it was fielded. We continue to do that with a focus on the fact that the soldier and the squad are the centerpiece of the Army."

One of the many ways that planners reduced costs for NIE 14.1 was through the expanded application of a live/virtual/constructive (L/V/C) environment that exploited the application of modeling and simulation technologies to reduce some unit field commitments, MAJ Lane said. He added that the brigade's L/V/C involvement in NIE 14.1 included 23 companies operating live, seven companies operating in simulation, and a blended "live/sim" opposing force that he described as "free-thinking, wants to win, follows their doctrine, but goes through the same thinking process that we do every day to best use terrain and resources."

NIE 14.1 also included "virtual participation" by elements of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, and "live participation" by the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan., which served as the higher controlling headquarters and "pseudo joint task force."

COL Gregory Baine, chief of the Brigade Modernization Integration Division at BMC, pointed to the fact that nearly 75 percent of the maneuver combat power was participating in NIE 14.1 "in simulation," emphasizing the importance of that approach in the current budgetary environment. He also highlighted the fact that some of the SUEs hold significant promise to further reduce Army operational costs. As an example, he cited the Intelligent Power Technology (IPT) concept.

Just outside the TOC, SFC William Lawrence, one of COL Baine's leads on the SUE, explained that IPT served to "establish a power grid able to provide a total of 372 kilowatts of power with the main part of the system. Additionally, they have another trailer with a 20-kW variable-speed generator that has basically a giant battery pack on it. After it charges the battery, the generator shuts itself down and the system then runs offthat battery until it is down to a certain percent, when the generator turns itself back on.

"Before this, you just took a bunch of generators that ran stand-alone," he said. "So you might have a 20- or 30-kW generator that might have only had a coffeepot hooked up to it pulling one kW of power, but this way, the system actually 'looks at the load' and turns generators on or offas needed, saving fuel and saving wear and tear on the generators."

The system is also capable of "load shedding," whereby users can designate "priority items" that cannot lose power and others that can afford to lose power during certain situations.

SPC Daniel Sanders, who ran the IPT for 2/1 AD during NIE 14.1, said the system changed the way he traditionally did things "both work-wise and from a fuel efficiency standpoint. Instead of stringing about 15 generators all around the TOC to run certain items, this way we are actually able to power everything offof just two generators at this moment instead of those 15. We're not only saving fuel, but we are reducing the number of pintle tow requirements of trailering generators to the field."

Several miles north of the TOC, elements of the brigade's 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment (1-1 CAV), were conducting screen line and route reconnaissance operations as part of Phase I for NIE 14.1.

"We won't clear the route, but we will mark it for the location of any IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that we encounter," said LTC Keith Pruitt, commander, 1-1 CAV. "Then we'll mark a bypass so that the follow-on units ... can get offthe route and go around the IED."

LTC Pruitt's squadron included a "virtual troop" supporting his live elements against a combination of live and virtual enemy forces. The squadron operations included one of the unique NIE demonstrations-a Stryker reconnaissance vehicle equipped with a Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Soldier Network Extension (SNE). The Stryker SNE prototype vehicle was assigned to one of 1-1 CAV's live elements-Apache Troop.

While both WIN-T SNE and related point-of-presence systems have previously been integrated onto NIE MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle platforms, NIE 14.1 marked an expansion of SNE capabilities to both Stryker and M113 platforms as well as installation of point of presence onto an M1068 command post vehicle.

CPT Phil Cerami commanded 1-1 CAV's Apache Troop at NIE 14.1 and was applying a variety of lessons learned in theater to his third NIE.

"We're able to either prove the systems out here to be capable systems for soldiers to use downrange or to show that they are not capable systems and the Army shouldn't be spending money on them," he said.

"From my own personal experience of being a platoon leader down range in Afghanistan, sometimes we got some equipment that either didn't do what it was supposed to do or was cumbersome or useless," said CPT Pat Keller, Apache Troop executive officer and participant in five NIEs. "Those things were a waste to the taxpayer and usually sat in a container. Doing this out here helps to mitigate that and to better equip soldiers downrange."

Coupling the NIE "forcing function" analogy offered by LTG Walker with the blunt warfighter honesty that has become a hallmark of the NIEs, both officers agreed that "fighting the enemy and fighting the systems at the same time" was the biggest challenge of the process.

"In integrating the new systems, even with their faults, into the maneuver plan, many times the system itself dictates how we're going to maneuver versus the other way around. That can make it very difficult to do some of this stuff," CPT Cerami said.

Asked for an example, he pointed to the troop's current screen line operations, noting that some of the systems were placing significant limitations on the distances that he could "push dismounts out" from his vehicles while retaining required situational awareness.

Those sorts of experiential comments were incorporated with others in an after-action report process that provided an initial report summary to the commander of the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center in December 2013. Completion of all NIE 14.1 reports is planned for February 1. While those reports will help feed future materiel decisions, the NIE process is addressing issues across DOTMLPF domains.

"We're trying to make sure that NIE 14.1 is more than just a test for this equipment," said COL James Crider, BMC deputy commander. "There is also a lot of operational realism here. This is a training event, not only for the [2/1 AD] brigade but also for the entire Army.

"We're getting more utility out of this 'laboratory' (so to speak) of a brigade combat team in motion conducting maneuvers in a joint environment, and soon with multinational partners," he added. "Yes, we do tests, but at the same time we help to set the stage for innovation for the future. How do we do that? We bring things on and give them the best litmus test: We give them to soldiers and they will put them into operation."

Scenes from Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 14.1, one of six sequential testing/proving exercises, held at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (clockwise from top right): the tactical operations center of 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment (1-1 CAV), 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division; 1-1 CAV triage area outside the medical aid station; an MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV); a Stryker medical vehicle; an Intelligent Power Technology demonstration; a soldier entering information on the Joint Battle Command Platform.

An M-ATV rests on the Fort Bliss maneuver ranges during NIE 14.1. The event capitalized on lessons learned from previous NIEs as well as industry feedback in order to address gaps in capabilities.

Elements of 1-1 CAV, commanded by LTC Keith Pruitt, conducted screen line and route reconnaissance operations as part of the first phase of NIE 14.1. The squadron included a "virtual troop" supporting his live elements against a combination of virtual and live enemy forces.

Stryker medical vehicles played an integral role in the NIE 14.1 exercises.

A refrigerated international shipping container was tested during NIE 14.1.

The AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio, attached to a Nett Warrior end user device, was among the communications systems tested.

The ivory dome of a Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Soldier Network Extension protrudes from the midsection of a Stryker reconnaissance vehicle; the Army has moved some of the network integration from M-ATVs to other tactical platforms.

The medical evacuation vehicle is the ambulance variant in the Stryker family of vehicles. NIE 14.1 marked an expansion of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Soldier Network Extension to Stryker platforms.

Scott R. Gourley, a freelance writer, is a contributing editor to ARMY.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Army

Story Tools