ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Facing both new missions and fiscal constraints, the Army will use the Network Integration Evaluations to respond to emerging requirements, make smarter acquisition decisions and keep pace with technological change, Army senior leaders told industry partners last week.
Attended by approximately 200 industry representatives, with at least 45 percent of participants representing small businesses, the Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 14.1 Industry Day served to emphasize the Army’s commitment to the NIE construct, outline improvements to the process and keep the network industrial base informed of the Army’s needs and plans.
Having listened to industry feedback from the first four NIEs, the Army is incorporating a combined Request for Proposals and Sources Sought process to procure promising capability out of the NIE; as well as doing more advance planning of NIEs so companies can better align their research and development resources with the capabilities the Army is seeking.
“The network is driven by commercial technology, and that isn’t going to stop. We need to be smart enough in the Army to leverage that and bring it in,” said Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, known as ASA(ALT). “We’re getting value in showing the art of the possible and refining our requirements. NIE gives us a tremendous venue to iterate technology and get it right.”
Held twice a year at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the NIEs bring together the Army requirements, materiel, testing, training and doctrine communities in order to further integrate and rapidly mature network and non-network capabilities. The capabilities are evaluated in realistic missions by a full Brigade Combat Team of Soldiers who provide detailed feedback and assessments to inform Army decisions on requirements, fielding, doctrine and procurement.
The Army is using the NIE construct to help validate tactical network requirements, integrate complex network and platform systems, ensure system interoperability and most important to gain Soldier feedback to inform the Army on what systems show promise from a user perspective. Beginning with NIE 14.2 in spring 2014, NIEs are evolving to include Joint and Coalition Operations, which facilitates an affordable method of evaluating Joint capabilities in the Coalition environments where the Army expects to operate.
“We recognize that we’re probably not going to fight any future fights alone, so it would behoove us to make sure that at various echelons, we can talk across those different formations,” said Col. Mark Elliott, director of the Army G-3/5/7 LandWarNet-Mission Command Directorate. “We have to continue to mature the NIE, and this is going to be more important as the dollars dry up.”
Due to the swift progress of communications technology, private sector innovation is crucial to Army network modernization and the success of the NIEs. There has been significant interest in the process from businesses of all sizes. In total, more than 416 industry and government candidates applied for NIE consideration; after laboratory and white paper candidate assessments, 140 were evaluated as part of the last four NIEs.
The next NIE, 13.2, focuses on the continued solidification of the network baseline, including the Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2. NIE 14.1, which will take place in October-November 2013, is the first to use a formal Request for Proposals, or RFPs, for industry solutions, with an RFP seeking Vehicle Tactical Routers released, Dec. 20.
Along with continued Sources Sought notices to assess industry solutions to broad, less mature capability gaps, the RFPs will be used for defined capability gaps and provide a formal mechanism for streamlined competitive procurement of non-Program of Record systems that show promise out of the NIE.
By continuing to hold two NIEs each fiscal year, the Army can evaluate a broad range of network and non-network technology solutions, but also use the events to help shape specific requirements and improvements, allowing for more targeted acquisitions.
The Army has also recently combined its systems engineering and integration staff functions overseeing the NIE, which will facilitate better interaction with industry and more advance planning of network standards and needs. The new organization, known as the System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate under ASA(ALT), provides coordinated system of systems analysis, engineering, architectural and integration products to facilitate how the Army efficiently shapes, manages, validates and synchronizes the fielding of integrated materiel capabilities.