As the Army gears up to conduct two more Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) events at Ft. Bliss this spring, and again this fall, it is busily running radios and other communications gear through its brand-new modernization labs at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. And the defense industry is busily trying to supply them.
Hosting reporters at the Aberdeen facility recently, Army officials said that they had received 145 different White Papers from industry for non-developmental, mature technologies for inclusion in the spring test, a number the service slashed to only fifteen once it started to pack up the gear to send to Ft. Bliss. Moving forward quickly, a whole new slate of technologies arrived at the Aberdeen labs in late March for testing—and culling—before the winners are sent to Ft. Bliss for operational evaluations for the NIE that is scheduled to take place in September.
Echoing assessments I heard at the AUSA show last month, Col. John Morrison, of the Army LandWarNet/Battle Command shop, said that the NIE is “a maturing process,” since it was only last fall that the service was fully able to integrate industry into the planning process. Still, he admitted, “we know we've got to improve our feedback mechanisms to industry.”
Earlier this month the Army also released to industry its network integration baseline against which contractors can measure how well their own technologies match up to what the service is looking for before even submitting White Papers to the process. That way, industry will know exactly the specifications its gear needs to have in order to be able to plug in to the Army’s WIN-T communications network and integrate with other technologies. “We’re already deep in planning what we want to get accomplished” in the tests this fall Morrison said, adding that now that the Army has developed its network baseline, it is able to “make changes at the margins” as opposed to the wholesale changes it has undergone in its modernization programs since the demise of the Future Combat Systems program in 2009.