The Army this month will begin a new round of end-to-end customer testing of its upgraded biometric database after a delay to fix problems encountered in an earlier round of user testing last summer.

Following testing last August of the latest version of the biometric repository, the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) 1.2, the Army Product Manager for the Biometrics Enabling Capability (BEC) implemented fixes to the shortfalls identified by the users. Those shortfalls include connectivity issues between the users and the database, including adding additional servers and updated biometric identity templates.

The Army did go live briefly with the upgraded ABIS capability but then returned to using the 1.0 version while the various fixes were implemented.

Once the end-to-end customer testing is successfully completed, a report is expected to be generated this spring. Once that report is delivered, the BEC Product Manager is expected to seek a full deployment decision (FDD), which would baseline the capability as an acquisition program of record.

The FDD decision will be made by the Army’s Office of Provost Marshall General and the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems, which has milestone decision authority. The BEC Product Manager is within the PEO EIS directorate.

Additionally, the Defense Forensic and Biometric Agency and the combatant commanders will provide input on the deployment decision.

ABIS 1.2 is expected to house 18 million biometric records versus the current capacity of 10 million and double the daily transaction capability to 30,000 searches. Eventually, the Army plans to transition the initial BEC Increment to BEC Increment 1, which would mean an even larger data base, 50 million records up to 100 million, more daily transactions, and improved data exchange with other federal agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, and international partners.

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the current prime contractor supporting and upgrading the ABIS system. The Army is planning to recompete the program for BEC Increment 1 with a notional schedule presented last July showing release of a Request for Proposal in the fourth quarter of FY ’14 for the engineering and manufacturing development phase with an award expected in the third quarter of FY ’15 and initial operating capability in FY ’17.

Whether these timelines are still in effect is unclear as discussions continue.

The ABIS system was developed as a quick reaction capability, helping warfighters peel away the anonymity of terrorists and insurgents in an era of asymmetric warfare. Despite the fact that the existing system is at capacity, it maintained an operational availability greater than 99 percent in FY ’13 and matched more than 516,000 identities.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation released its annual report in late October that covers a wide range of programs. The report says that without developmental testing, ABIS was unable to be updated, adding that the problem should have been discovered in testing.

Throughout the involvement of U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the importance of identity dominance grew. Last fall, John Boyd, the director of Defense Biometrics & Forensics within the Defense Department, said that the concept of identity alone is rising in importance and may even find a place in the next Quadrennial Defense Review.

However, despite the growing importance of identity for various DoD missions, it’s unclear going forward how the drawdown in U.S. forces from overseas war theaters and the consequent loss of war-related funding that helped drive biometric-related developments and acquisitions will play out.