Army hosts largest-ever, joint-combined network exercise

FORT BLISS, Texas (Army News Service, Sept. 24, 2015) — The Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE 16.1, which takes place Sept. 25 through Oct. 8, will be the largest NIE ever, since the exercises started in 2011, said Brig. Gen. Terry McKenrick.

Normally, there are between 3,500 and 3,800 participants in NIE, said McKenrick, who is the commanding general, Brigade Modernization Command. NIE 16.1 has more than 9,000 U.S. and coalition soldiers, supported by more than 3,000 civilians participating primarily at Fort Bliss, but also other locations around the U.S. and the world.

Among the many Army units participating this time are I Corps Headquarters; 1st Armored Division Headquarters, along with several 1st Armored Division brigades; a brigade headquarters from the United Kingdom, along with a company of Strykers being used by the United Kingdom’s Scots Guards; 82nd Airborne Division, which will conduct a joint forcible entry; and, 101st Airborne Division, which will conduct an airborne assault.

The U.K. and Italy join U.S. units on the ground with 12 other nations, as well as other U.S. military units, some of which will participate virtually, using a variety of simulations.

Some 300 platforms, including just about all the vehicles in the Army’s inventory, as well as experimental vehicles, loaded with a of radios, satellite communications gear and mission command applications, are being evaluated, along with radios carried by dismounted Soldiers, McKenrick said.

NIE 16.1 is assessing manned and unmanned teaming — the ability to increase situational understanding, lethality, and sustainment of maneuver forces while reducing manpower and risk, he said. In all, three unmanned ground systems are being evaluated, as well as several networked unmanned air systems.

Network provides the ability for Soldiers in command posts, mounted and dismounted to download situational awareness data from the unmanned air systems.


While NIE 16.1 is about experimentation, an equally valuable focus will be on readiness, McKenrick said. The realistic training will be equivalent to a combat training center rotation, with a hybrid threat featuring combined-arms maneuver and wide-area security against an opposing force. Weapons of mass destruction scenarios will also be incorporated.

McKenrick said the Army is now going through an “assessment process” of accrediting White Sands-Bliss-Holloman as a “joint-multinational training capability. That will help us bring in more joint and multinational partners in future exercises.”

Now and in the future, the Army will operate as part of a joint and coalition force, he said. It’s spelled out in the Army’s keystone doctrine known as the “Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World.” To do that effectively requires compatibility across network architectures that each of the armies use, he said. That’s why this exercise and getting it right is so important to the U.S. and its partner nations.

Besides Fort Bliss, the exercise will also spill over to adjacent Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range, both in New Mexico. To give sense of scale, White Sands is 3,200 square miles, Fort Bliss 1,700, while the entire state of Rhode Island is a mere 1,214.


NIE 16.1 will be different from any other previous NIE, McKenrick said. NIE 16.1 will be the “final proof of concept” for a new annual exercise, which will start at the beginning of fiscal year 2017. That new exercise will be called the Army Warfighting Assessment, or AWA, with the first being AWA 17, which will be conducted in October 2016.

NIE 16.1 and AWA will not focus on the traditional NIE programmatic testing required for systems to become or not become programs of record, or go back into development, he said. AWA-17 will focus on 38 concepts and capabilities that U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, identified, he said.

Strict testing requirements, in other words, will be lifted to give industry and the Army’s own lab engineers the freedom to explore new capabilities with Soldier feedback in realistic settings.

So, NIE 16.1 and AWA will focus on experimentation involving integration of U.S. and coalition networks to see what works, what doesn’t, why it doesn’t, and what solutions might be possible.

Another difference between NIE 16.1/AWA and past NIEs, is that there will be a lot more stakeholders present on the ground, said McKenrick. They include the requirements and acquisition communities, TRADOC and industry partners, as well as eight of the Army’s centers of excellence, with heavy participation from the Mission Command, Maneuvers, Fires and Cyber CoEs. It will be a “truly collaborative environment, a team-of-teams effort.”

Industry and Army Research and Development Centers will be eliciting Soldier feedback on some 73 systems, reviewed by Plans and Operations, Army G-3/5/7, that will be evaluated, he said. Also, TRADOC will be looking to see how new technology could drive doctrine and how doctrine could influence new technology.

New technology could be software, hardware, app-like devices, security solutions, wireless capability to replace hardwiring, energy-saving devices and so on — items needed to enable the Army to be more expeditionary, a key cornerstone of Force 2025 concept.


For the second time, the Bold Quest exercise is “aligning with NIE,” according to John Miller, Bold Quest operational manager, Joint Fires Division, Joint Staff, J-6.

Bold Quest capability demonstrations and assessments began in 2003, with a narrow focus on technology to identify friendly forces for purposes of avoiding fratricide, he said. It has since grown significantly. “When a forward observer has need of supporting fires and he places that call for fire, we want to make sure that request, no matter what the nationality, provides the fire support that individual needs at that time.”

Since that call for fire goes over the network, it makes sense for Bold Quest to be involved in NIE, Miller said.

“Digital interoperability brings the J-6 into this in a big way,” he said. “Communicating digitally allows that call for fire and the response to be accelerated greatly. It also allows you to overcome the language barriers [that voice would pose].”

Miller concluded: “Bold Quest by itself is challenging. Aligning it with NIE and the multinational exercise adds another layer of complexity, but the rewards are worth the planning and executing for something of this magnitude.”


NIE 16.1 will be followed next spring by NIE 16.2. That exercise and NIEs to follow, McKenrick said, will return to the traditional role of NIEs: to evaluate network systems in a formal test environment to determine if the product is doing what the vendors have said it will do and that will inform programmatic decisions.

Instead of the traditional two NIEs per year, NIE 16.2 will be the only NIE next year, and in years to follow, there will be just one NIE per year. As mentioned, there will also be one AWA each year.

While this year’s NIE has heavy NATO participation, next year’s will focus more on partner nations within the U.S. Pacific Command’s area of responsibility, McKenrick added. Sea-basing, along with Marine Air-Ground Task Force experiments, will be included as well. Units are still being identified that will participate. Australia has already “signed up.”


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