The Army’s Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) process and yesterday’s Industry Day is critical for the Army, as building the network is the land force’s number one priority, officials said.

The NIE process allows soldiers to test systems at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and help the service make rapid decisions on what it will do with those systems.

“It allows us to get that soldier feedback that’s so critical to how we manage programs and improve programs,” Lt. Gen. William Phillips, principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology at an Institute for Land Warfare (ILW) breakfast yesterday. “When you put things in the hands of soldiers, extraordinary things can happen.”

Hands-on soldier involvement in system testing is “absolutely critical and it’s going to be something that we’ll institutionalize inside of the Army,” Phillips said. “It’s a new way of doing business for us.”

The first NIE was held in July.

“The NIE construct is every six months,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli at the ILW event. “That is the fully equipped combat team at Ft. Bliss, Texas. That is all they do.”

The Army is working the NIE so hard because the network is so important.

The NIE process is also important for the Operational Needs Statement (ONS)- Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) process.

“We are going to do everything we can to force any ONS JUONS to go through the NIE process, that initial testing and integration with that brigade combat team before it’s sent downrange,” Chiarelli said. “We are going to take the integration environment off the commander who is fighting and putting it on that brigade combat team we’ve got down (at Ft. Bliss).”

Chiarelli is going to push this hard with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Because I have a dedicated brigade at Bliss to do this, if we get in a situation where you find the cure for al Qaeda, they are flexible enough to do an out of cycle test before sending it down range,” he said.

Industry Day was held at El Paso, Texas, and at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. to acquaint those who might participate in future NIEs with the process.

More than 150 industry representatives attended from both large defense corporations and small business entities that will support NIE 12.1, taking place in November 2011, and NIE 12.2 slated for spring 2012, said Paul Mehney, chief, Public Communications for Program Executive Office Integration. More than 60 companies were represented, with 40 percent of those being small business.

The Army needs industry help, Phillips said. The service will issue a Sources Sought solicitation where Industry can show it what it might have that might fill gaps identified by the Training and Doctrine Command.

Then the weeding out process takes place. For example, the Army received 73 White Papers from the most recent sources sought notice, issued about a month ago, Phillips said. A number of those systems were selected to be sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to be tested in a laboratory environment in terms of how the system connects to the Army’s network.  

The Army then selected approximately 50 systems to be tested in the next NIE. An important part of the NIE takes place before the testing itself, where industry must ensure soldiers understand how to use the equipment.

The NIE is of particular value to the acquisition community, Phillips said, because it is at that one location where all the programs can be brought for testing, leveraging the NIE. Programs are being aligned today, he added, to fit within the NIE window.

As the Army evaluates the systems, “we’ll figure out exactly what the Army wants to procure and we’ll do it as rapidly as possible” to become part of a capability set and sent downrange.  

The full day event familiarized industry with the NIE process, introduced the major Army organizations involved and their missions, showed how the evaluation brigade–2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1AD)–is structured and what equipment it possesses, Mehney said. Industry representatives were provided a first-hand look at the test/evaluation ranges and environmental conditions at White Sands Missile Range, and  heard how the NIE supports the Army’s Network Strategy, the entrance and exit criteria for capabilities within the Agile Process and what test and evaluation conditions must be met.