The Army's Network Integration Evaluation program, under way since 2011, has been instrumental in getting network capabilities to troops on the ground by bringing together industry and the Defense Department. Gathering twice a year at Ft. Bliss, Texas, vendors, soldiers and officials identify gaps and examine potential solutions that ideally are fast-tracked into the combat theater.
But it turns out that the mission is not so simple. Instead, technologies that perform poorly in developmental testing are proceeding into operational testing and even into the field, while better options remain shelved amid acquisition struggles. NIE's schedule-driven approach hamstrings adequate preparations, and despite five NIEs under the Army's belt, there still are no good metrics to evaluate the entire tactical network's performance.
The troubles surface in a new Government Accountability Office report issued Aug. 22. The report's writers say the Army is "not taking full advantage of the potential knowledge that could be gained from the NIEs and some resulting Army decisions are at odds with knowledge accumulated during the NIEs."
Among those decisions are plans to move forward with several systems despite poor performance in developmental testing, including tactical network WIN-T increment 2, JTRS Manpack and JTRS Rifleman tactical radios and NettWarrior, a combat situational awareness system.
In both JTRS systems, testers in the development phase recommended against proceeding to operational testing, but the Army moved ahead anyway, in some cases reducing requirements and reclassifying participation as limited user or customer tests.
"Fielding individual systems that have done poorly during operational tests carries risk of less-than-optimal performance, with the potential of costly fixes after fielding and increased operating and sustainment costs," the report noted. "Moreover, performance and reliability issues of individual systems could be magnified when these systems become part of an integrated network."
To alleviate the problem, the GAO recommended that network systems from major defense acquisition programs obtain certification of readiness to move into operational testing – a stipulation that Alan Shaffer, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, said could take away flexibility.
(By Amber Corrin)