Force 2025: Army Looks Beyond NIE

The U.S Army is rethinking how to best inject new technologies into its frontline fighting forces.

After nearly a decade of semi-annual network integration (NIE) exercises that helped fuel rapid changes in battlefield communications, blue-force tracking and other gear, the Army is reducing NIEs to once a year and introducing Army Warfighting Assessments (AWAs) as part of its Force 2025 and Beyond strategy.

Under the strategy, which is intended to take a longer view, AWAs will be held each the fall, with the first full assessment occurring this October. NIEs will take place each the spring. Both events will take place at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. ew Mexico as the Army continues developing and refining Force 2025 and Beyond through fiscal 2017.

Col. Verner Kiernan, director of Army Materiel Command’s (AMC’s) NIE Plans and Operations, said the AWAs will test concepts and capabilities rather than the materiel solutions at the forefront of NIEs. For example, if the Army is considering a new vehicle, it could explore the concepts of operation and its future capabilities in an AWA before a prototype vehicle is even available. By substituting a Humvee or similar vehicle and modeling its anticipated purpose, officials can more quickly spot holes in a concept and discover challenges to be overcome.

By contrast, NIE events put existing gear to the test in live field exercises.

The Army examined the new approach last September and October during NIE 16.1, which was also the AWA final proof-of-concept exercise. In the test, the Army set up an expeditionary base camp and evaluated renewable energy options, groundwater treatment equipment, a technology that generated water from air and base defense capabilities that included a mast with advanced optics.

“Those are cases of actual equipment being developed that are brought out to be evaluated,” Kiernan said. “Those may continue to develop and eventually may get into an Army system. Right now, it’s more of the ground level to determine if these concepts are going to work or not and are we going to continue to look at these systems in the future.”

Along with AMC, other commands playing key roles in Force 2025 and Beyond include Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) and Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). However, Paul Boyce, an official with FORSCOM, said: “Nearly all of the U.S. Army is involved in Force 2025 and Beyond efforts.

“TRADOC is designated the lead for Force 2025 and Beyond and will coordinate with Headquarters, Department of the Army, Army commands and Army service component commands to integrate recommendations. The Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff of the Army, Undersecretary of the Army and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army chair decision-making forums that guide the development of the future force.”

Together, those players have identified a series of emerging technologies to study further: robotics; autonomous systems; cyber; Big Data analytics; information technology, communications and command and control; human performance; nanotechnology/miniaturization; additive manufacturing and 3D printing; and also advanced materials for mobility and protection.

“These are the priorities because they enable our joint fight in the land combat role to win the war in the ever-complex future environment, as opposed to merely the battles we face as prescribed in the Army Operating Concept,” Boyce said.

AWAs will look further into the future to identify emerging technologies to determine more quickly which way to head, and where investments may be most productive. One goal: Avoid committing too soon to high-risk, high-cost acquisitions that may never make it to the field.

According to public Army documents, AWA maneuvers will help validate new expeditionary capabilities developed for Brigade Combat Teams, with the specific goal of helping them retain overmatch against potential adversaries through 2025 and, beyond that, to lay the groundwork for fundamental changes.

If that sounds like that hottest of buzzwords – innovation – Tom Pedigo, chief of technology requirements integration at AMC will not disagree. “That word is being thrown around,” he said. “So the question becomes ‘In what context?’” The Army is not pursuing innovation for innovation’s sake, but rather seeking to find more effective ways to operate; faster means to transition technologies out of the lab and into the field; and more efficient solutions to repair and maintain systems, saving both time and money.

They key is putting in place the right research and development (R&D) to inform the best decisions. AMC executes almost 80 percent of the Army’s R&D funds.

“We are here as truth merchants,” Pedigo explained. “We are here to demonstrate advanced technology and capabilities. We are not industry. We do not build stuff for the Army per se. We demonstrate through prototyping that this stuff works.”

Fielding new technologies was easier during flush times at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is harder today as budgets are squeezed. Today, all of the services seek ways to leverage commercial investment in emerging technologies. Viewed another way, the government is asking companies to ramp up innovation and absorb more of its cost.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Peter Palmer, now director of the General Dynamics Mission Systems-sponsored EDGE Innovation Network, said one change evident in the AWA approach is its focus on human optimization. Too often in the past, he said, requirements failed to include a usability mandate. “The bottom line is that we want a usability formula,” Palmer said.

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