Army steps up planning, refines participation process for NIEs

The Army plans to use its Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) to respond to emerging requirements, make smarter acquisition decisions and keep pace with technological change in an increasingly tight budget climate.

The Army plans to use its Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) to respond to emerging requirements, make smarter acquisition decisions and keep pace with technological change in an increasingly tight budget climate, Army senior leaders said at a recent industry day held at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Having gleaned experience and heard feedback from industry in the aftermath of the first four NIEs, the Army is establishing a combined request for proposals and sources sought process to procure promising capability out of the NIEs. In addition, the service also is doing more advance planning of NIEs so that contractors can better align their research and development resources with the capabilities the Army is seeking, Army officials said.

"The network is driven by commercial technology, and that isn't going to stop," said MG Harold Greene, deputy for acquisition and systems management, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. "We need to be smart enough in the Army to leverage that and bring it in. We're getting value in showing the art of the possible and refining our requirements. NIE gives us a tremendous venue to iterate technology and get it right."

Together with ongoing sources sought notices to assess industry solutions to broad, less mature capability gaps, the RFPs will be used for defined capability gaps and provide a formal mechanism for streamlined competitive procurement of non-Program of Record systems that show promise out of the NIE, the Army aid.
The Army is using the NIE construct to help validate tactical network requirements, integrate complex network and platform systems, ensure system interoperability and most important to gain soldier feedback to inform the Army on what systems show promise from a user perspective, the service said. Beginning with NIE 14.2 in spring 2014, NIEs are evolving to include joint and coalition operations, which facilitates an affordable method of evaluating Joint capabilities in the Coalition environments where the Army expects to operate.

The next NIE, 13.2, focuses on the continued solidification of the network baseline, including the Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation for Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2. NIE 14.1, which will take place in October and November 2013, is the first to use formal RFPs for industry solutions, with an RFP seeking Vehicle Tactical Routers released, Dec. 20.

The purpose of semi-annual NIEs is to bring together Army requirements, materiel, testing, training and doctrine communities to further integrate and rapidly mature network and non-network capabilities. The capabilities are evaluated in realistic missions by a full brigade combat team of soldiers who provide their own critique of the systems and equipment that serves to inform future Army decisions on requirements, fielding, doctrine and procurement.

To date more than 416 industry and government candidates applied to participate in the NIEs. Following rigorous laboratory and white paper candidate assessments, 140 were evaluated as part of the last four NIEs.

About 200 industry representatives, of which nearly half represented small businesses, attended the NIE 14.1 Industry Day to learn about Army plans as they relate to private-sector assistance with military network technologies and equipment.