Army Will Expand Scope of Network Technology Evaluations

By Eric Beidel
The Army’s semi-annual process to test network-related equipment is undergoing changes that could open it up more to small businesses and to a wider range of products.
In the upcoming Network Integration Evaluation 12.2 this May, the Army will perform initial operational tests for the Win-T increment 2 communications-on-the-move system as well the Joint Tactical Radio System Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit two-channel radio.
But once the Army’s main network architecture is validated, the evaluations at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., will be opened to a broader range of systems beyond wireless communications, Army spokesman Paul Mehney said. This fall’s NIE 13.1, for example, will have a focus on operational energy.
The evaluations schedules for May 2013 may not even go by the NIE name. Officials may drop the “network” part of it and call it Capability Integration Evaluation or Integration Capability Event or something else to account for the wider scope of the tests. They may bring other services into the fold to perform joint evaluations. The Army is currently discussing this possibility with the Marine Corps and Air Force.
“Is 13.2 going to look exactly like 12.2 or 13.1?" Mehney said. "No."
The Army already has begun to introduce non-network items into the evaluations, including four non-developmental Ground Combat Vehicles in 12.2. But it appears that 13.2 may be shaping up to be an entirely different animal.
“We are looking at focusing the activities next year and into 2014 and bringing more capabilities into the fold,” he said. “Everything still has to plug into the network, but we’re not going to limit stuff exclusively to the network.”
Army officials are working on the details for 13.2 realizing that industry has been waiting to see if the evaluations would lead to contracts and acquisition reforms.
Officials say they are aware of the financial burden on vendors that demonstrate products at the NIE. They are considering ways to compensate companies as they are asked to bring more products to the experiments. This could benefit small businesses that can’t afford to send the equipment and staff to White Sands. These efforts might be structured similarly to small business innovative research grants or cooperative research and development agreements.
Officials also want to speed responses to industry after an evaluation. The Army needs to report back to industry within weeks of an event, so companies have a better idea of what fixes they need to make and where to make their investments, Mehney said.
Army research laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., also will play a bigger role in future evaluations. About six labs are supporting NIE 12.2. The Army received 140 white papers from industry for 13.1 on products related to multi-channel tactical radios, small satellite communications, interoperability with allies and other capabilities. 

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government, C4ISR, Tactical Communications, Infotech, Architecture, Procurement, Acquisition Reform, Test and Evaluation

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