Army integration exercise will improve situational awareness

Defense Systems' staff visited Army facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in May to learn first-hand about the technologies that went into the Network Integration Exercise.

Networks and communications can seem like abstract concepts, as ethereal as the symbols of "The Matrix." A recent Defense Systems visit to Army facilities at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., made the bits and bytes more tangible, though.

It was there during the run-up to the Network Integration Exercise (NIE) that we saw the Army’s next generation of radios and networking devices being hard-wired into armored vehicles and tactical operations centers, with the expectation that they will soon be ready for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was satisfying to view the systems at that stage, having seen them mostly as mockups on somebody’s booth at a trade show.


Related coverage:

More from the August 2011 issue


It was particularly interesting to see these systems, the Ground Mobile Radio and the Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit radios in particular, in their natural settings: the vehicle interiors. And more importantly, in the hands of the soldiers who will actually employ them. Walking around the immense motor pool at Fort Bliss — with its clean rows of fighting vehicles and troop carriers — it is easy to be awed by the firepower.

The image that has stayed with me since I left, though, is not of the heavy armor but of the young soldiers dedicated to their missions and driven to be part of systems testing that will lead directly to better situational awareness on the battlefield. Their eyes shaded against the blistering sun and their throats quenched by CamelBaks pulled across their shoulders, it’s clearly not a stretch to imagine these very same soldiers doing the exact same job in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan a couple of years from now.

But it’s because of the network testing this summer and again this fall, and next year, too, that soldiers who do find themselves deployed to Afghanistan a couple of years hence will be bringing with them a revolution in comms.

This month’s special report goes inside this summer’s NIE, with in-depth reporting on the various systems that were tested, the benchmarks they have to meet and the organizations involved. We also take a closer look at the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, particularly how its 3,800 soldiers and equipment are organized for the test, as it was the first time that a full brigade’s worth of soldiers were let loose with these systems.

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