Building the Army Network: ‘A Revolutionary New Approach’

By August 3, 2011August 6th, 2014Acquisition, General, Science and Technology
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By Kris Osborn

The U.S. Army in July completed an exhaustive Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) at Fort Bliss, TX, and White Sands Missile Range, NM, to test programs of record and assess emerging network technologies.

The NIE, which began the first week of June, is a key part of the Army’s network strategy. This and future follow-on NIEs are structured to assess the scope and readiness of emerging technologies and integrate new capability before sending it to Soldiers in combat.

One of the main goals of the NIEs is to help the Army field current technology faster, ensuring that Soldiers maintain the technological edge over our adversaries. With this overarching effort to develop a single battlefield network, dismounted Soldiers can connect to other units in real time, linking them to command posts, vehicles on the move, and higher headquarters.

“Ultimately, the network will connect leaders and Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines at all levels, at every echelon of command, in any formation, and across the entire team, with the right information quickly and seamlessly,” said GEN Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. “And in doing so, I am confident it will make our various formations more lethal, faster, and survivable in today’s battlefield.”

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Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) 1st Armored Division (AD) practice a fire mission during Week 2 of the Army’s NIE at White Sands Missile Range. (U.S. Army photo by Claire Heininger Schwerin, Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T)

Target Technologies

The continued evaluation of nonproprietary high-bandwidth waveforms, such as Soldier Radio Waveform and Wideband Networking Waveform, which use a larger portion of the available spectrum than legacy waveforms, is a central aspect of the NIE.

The waveforms and many of the technologies are designed with standards aimed at meeting the needs of all the services, to accommodate the potential for joint service involvement in the network.

“I see this evolving very, very quickly into a test bed that can be used not just by the United States Army, but by all services,” Chiarelli said.

The technologies evaluated include a wide range of capability. Some programs that underwent formal Limited User Tests in the first NIE were:

  • Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit, a multi-channel, Soldier-mounted, software-programmable radio able to transmit using high-bandwidth waveforms.
  • Joint Capabilities Release, next-generation software for Force Battle Command Brigade and Below display screens, featuring Army-Marine Corps interoperability and advanced mapping tool kits.
  • Mounted Soldier System, a combat vehicle-Soldier ensemble that integrates advanced gear, such as a helmet-mounted display.
  • Network Integration Kit, a vehicle-mounted communications hub.
  • SPIDER, a remote munitions delivery system.

The NIE also experimented with more than 25 emerging technologies to zero in on the best ones that can benefit Soldiers in combat.

“The reality is these NIEs are as much about learning as they are about testing. After all, the only way to fix problems is to accurately identify them. Likewise, the most effective means for developing new, relevant doctrine and tactics is to conduct integrated network-enabled training exercises,” Chiarelli said.

‘A Revolutionary New Approach’

The purpose of the NIE is to evaluate all of these technologies from a system-of-systems perspective in a combatlike environment.

“We can evaluate new capabilities across the potential spectrum of conflict … in terrain that our units are really having to deal with today,” said MG Keith C. Walker, Commanding General, Brigade Modernization Command, who oversees the Network Integration Center at Fort Bliss. “If there is a capability that has merit, we can evaluate it and get feedback, not just on … the technical material piece, but what are the implications of this equipment on our doctrine, on how we organize, how we train, and how we develop leaders.”

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A Soldier from the 2nd BCT, 1st AD uses the Joint Tactical Radio System Ground Mobile Radio inside his vehicle to exchange information with higher headquarters. (U.S. Army photo by Claire Heininger Schwerin, PEO C3T)

The NIEs are aimed at refining the acquisition of new technologies and blending programs of record with commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, Army leaders said.

“The Army will buy what it needs, when it needs it, for those who need it. Simply stated, I see these NIEs not as evolutionary events but as representing a revolutionary new approach that will potentially change how we provide new capabilities in the future,” Chiarelli said. 

Standards Set

New and emerging technological solutions will have to adhere to the standards articulated by the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE), a set of computing standards designed to maximize interoperability among systems and create an environment where new applications can be built and integrated more easily, Army leaders said.

“As we deliver the Common Operating Environment implementation plan and we talk about the technology standards that we are going to put in there and articulate to industry, we’re now going to scope what our capability gaps are on the battlefield,” said LTG Susan S. Lawrence, Army Chief Information Officer/G-6.

Integrate, Then Issue

The NIEs are geared toward speeding up and improving the ways that new networking technologies are delivered to Soldiers, in part by ensuring that the integration of new capability is properly solidified before items are sent into combat.

“Right now any technical integration issue in theater must be fixed in theater. We owe it to our Soldiers to do better,” Chiarelli said. “And with the establishment of the Network Integration Center, we will bear that integration burden, not our Soldiers and commanders downrange. That’s the right answer.”

  • KRIS OSBORN is a Highly Qualified Expert for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Office of Strategic Communications. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from Kenyon College and an M.A. in comparative literature from Columbia University.