The Army’s new golden age of testing

The Army’s new golden age of testing

In any other context, it sounds so simple: Try before you buy. New car? Test drive. Expensive new headphones? The airplane-noise demo. Latest smartphone? Play with the one roped to the display stand.

For the Army, however, this approach has been almost revolutionary — the acquisition brass can’t talk enough about how pleased it is with today’s era of testing equipment, mostly soldier communications and network gear, before sending it downrange to G.I. Joe.

Not only does the Army have its much-discussed Network Integration Evaluation exercise out at White Sands, N.M, it’s got another event kicking off next week in Fort Dix, N.J. Commanders and acquisition officials will take a look at where the force should go next with its high-tech equipment.


Per the Army’s official story:

The event, which provides an opportunity for stakeholders from across the DoD to integrate and exercise future force capabilities, will also inform efforts to accelerate and recapitalize C4ISR technologies into the current force, thus supporting the agile acquisition process.

“We help articulate the operational ‘so what’ of a provider’s technology early in the process: where does it plug in, does it have potential, or does the technology provider need to go back to the drawing board to flush some things out — whether that’s back at his lab or by collaborating with us,” [said Lt. Col. Quentin L.] Smith . “This is a non-attribution environment, not a pass/fail test; we’re here to work things out collaboratively.”

E12, scheduled to run April 16 — July 27, will examine the development of an integrated Brigade Combat Team network that utilizes future capabilities outlined by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command for 2013–2014. The work will support initiatives to provide actionable intelligence at the squad level and improved situational awareness to dismounted soldiers.

“You don’t just wake up one morning and have a capability. That’s why we are assessing these now to see what works and makes sense at various echelons,” Smith said. “In the past, we’ve grown technologies then introduced them to the soldier at the back end. If we are to effectively and efficiently shape the Army’s future network, the S&T community at large needs to engage with each other and the soldier up front, using current and future requirements. And that means testing should be involved as you go through the wickets of engineering a system — from the very beginning to the end.”

E12 critical activities will include handheld and cellular technology at the tactical edge, emerging telemedicine technologies utilizing Current and Future Force network capabilities, radio-based combat ID, the assessment of emerging radio waveforms and the recapitalization of current force technologies such as the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System — or SINCGARS.

This may not be as big a sandbox environment as the NIE, but it looks as though it’ll encompass many of the same kinds of technical questions about the Army’s future network.

As you’ve heard, the Army brass wants some credit  – it wants a chance to prove it’s learned the lessons of Future Combat Systems (and others) and is changing the way it does business. Today’s era of assessments, soldier involvement and “wickets,” as Smith put it, along with a willingness to ditch programs, rather than drag them out, could be signs the Army really is changing.

The Army, however, is still the Army. There’s a danger it could just go from one extreme to another and become so gun shy about new programs that it forces itself to take baby steps when it could make strides, but won’t for fear of stumbling again. And at very least, as you’ve read here, all this testing and evaluation isn’t free. Service officials have to take care that the NIE and the rest of the new evaluation infrastructure doesn’t get so expensive that the Army risks the progress it has been hoping for.

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I do think NIE and JLTV will pass threw because they are joint service and some what cost saving measures. Not the same for the rest which may die this winter when Sequestration hits and ends most R&D projects especially in the army. After the Hornet crash in Virgina isn’t this proof the Navy and USAF need all the funds alot more than the army does.

“After the Hornet crash in Virgina isn’t this proof the Navy and USAF need all the funds alot more than the army does.”

Isn’t proof at all. Do you know why the plane crashed? Nobody does yet. Are you suggesting giving the Navy a couple billion dollars more would have prevented the plane from crashing?

This isn’t reform, this is lunacy. Capabilities DO NOT win wars, personnel do! Nowhere in these evaluations or development is there a frank assessment of what we are getting for all that investment. Let’s say the answer is that “the network” fully up and running gives us a 5–8% more capable force. Should we invest in it?

The answer is IT DEPENDS. What was the cost, how much O&M, training, etc does it take. How much SWAP-C and supporting equipment do we need to feed the equipments need for power. In the end we may actually have degraded our combat effectiveness, cost ourselves precious resources, and have been better off making due with radios given the cost/benefit trade.

Do the men/women I lose maintaining, installing, servicing and manning this “network” giving me a benefit which exceeds the loss of personnel/resources to combat forces? Haven’t seen the data, but hell no.….

“For the Army, however, this approach has been almost revolutionary” Way to compare apples and oranges, like the Army was going to build the hundred or so systems of FCS to test it. Yep, the Army has had some real bonehead acquisition “adventures” but there are PLENTY of examples of it testing individual end items before buying in bulk. Decidedly NOT revolutionary.

Up your Robert if some wants to chat let him dimbat.The fact is with the exception of modernization of the Army helo fleet there is not really any thing really urgent about army gear except NIE.

Recent Hornet crashes rase question that the Hornet fleet is aging too fats and need to replace them may be very urgent.

Robert, just goes to prove “no good deed goes unpunished”.

I don’t give the Department of Defense much praise lately, but this is one area where the Army in particular has really done an excellent job. Even in what we now refer to as the “good old days” we generally designed systems in a paper world. This document linked to that document linked to the other document and what came out the end of all that paper sometimes worked, but more often than not had some glaring deficiencies that had never been anticipated because the system had never been adequately modeled. With the amazing power of today’s PCs we can model complex systems involving operators, electronics, software, and hardware. It really is a huge step forward. My hat is off to the Army in particular for taking the lead in this area.

This is what happens when Powerpoint, the good idea fairy and field grades with too much time on their hands meet. We need more logistics, a better rifle and infrastructure improvements on many posts. That’s not smexy. Smexy is a new “Capability” or “Kinetics” or some 50 cent buzzword. Only they cost too much money. FCS is dead and this stinker should’ve died with it. Can we fix it? Not until it’s past warranty and the contractors train the 25 series. Can we order parts? Not until the manufacture gives it an NSN.

SecDef, kill this turkey before it kills the army.

The Army’s Golden Age of testing just started?? wait a minute-I was a Army PM in the mid-80s-when the new DOT&E office opened. Nothing got fielded without considerable exhaustive testing-we all complained about it-but it was generally successful. The NIE concept works and is effective-glad to see it,but systems still must pass through DOT&E

it is interesting what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. As far as I can tell, the NIE testing is not a whole lot different from the C4 Interoperability Test and some aspects of the Technical Field Test that were in the FCS baseline. If you want to dredge up the congressional language that MANDATED network testing before fielding FCS, that is possible. Remember, it was all about the network…if you believe that. Well, in this more austere, less ambitious environment, you are still doing what some people think is “system of systems” testing — if in fact the network was all that SoS was all about, that would be valid. But the emphasis does appear to be 100% field testing, 100% of the time, not the hybrid use of simulation and stimulation with “test articles” that include both systems in the field and systems in a battle laboratory. What do we learn from this ? I dunno — the Germans developed the blitzkrieg with cardboard tanks. Worked okay for them in the end.

Not sure I understand this remark. Are you imagining that there is some ueber-model sitting back behind the test range, gulping all this data up ? In some sense, yeah, okay, but in another sense this is just the old time religion, the Texas two-step OPTEC and CDSF, shall we dance.…you bring everything together in one location and have a jamboree. Some of this was the outcome of BRAC and the consequent buildup of Fort Bliss/WSMR. Whatever the sunk costs on FCS SDD, the testers were determined to do their own thing regardless. As you say, I always found the faith of the Boeing Company in paper integration a bit — astounding, as if you did enough paper reviews you would get it just perfect. And then I would talk to their Seattle people who explained how they really designed, built and tested the 777 from a computer model on up. Look at the way NASA builds systems, zero defects and all, well, except for Apollo 1, 6, 13 and two space shuttles.

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