Last week vice chief of the Army, Gen. Peter Chiarelli told us that he sees the biannual network tests the Army is conducting at the White Sands Missile Range “not as evolutionary events, but as representing a revolutionary new approach that will potentially effect how we provide new capabilities in the future.”
Chiarelli said that he planned on inviting industry down to the tests every six months so that they can put their mature communications technologies into the hands of soldiers, who can then test them in an operational environment. The idea was to buy fewer pieces of gear more often, so that the Army can field the latest communications technologies to the units who need it most.
Turns out that wasn’t just talk. Late Friday afternoon the Army issued a solicitation looking for industry sources who can display “mature networked systems solutions” who want to bring their wares down to White Sands for the October/November round of Network Integration Evaluation tests.
This is a lot different from previous network tests, in which the Army primarily put the Future Combat Systems networked gear and its successors through their paces. As Chiarelli said, this new acquisition plan will give both the Army and industry more flexibility to quickly field upgrades of existing technology. During their chat with reporters last week, Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army’s Chief Information Officer, added that “we can’t today even predict what capability is going to be available two years from now,” which means that it doesn’t make sense for the service to buy a large number of systems that will be outdated in just a few years. Lawrence promised that before each biannual test at White Sands, the service is “going to a better job of identifying where we see the capability gaps in our network,” and let industry come down and show the Army what they can do with mature systems that might fit the bill. Looks like this might be the first attempt at doing that.