As the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division fans out across the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico this month, the three U.S. maneuver battalions will face a threat much like they faced during previous network integration evaluations (NIEs) last spring and fall: a mix of state and nonstate actors, along with criminal elements and host-nation forces with whom they must decide how — or if — to partner.
The difference is that the brigade won’t be kicking the door down to conduct a forcible entry into hostile territory. Rather, it will act as a follow-on force that seeks to hold and consolidate gains, while slowly increasing the newly controlled area against a variety of threats.
Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, commander of Brigade Modernization Command, described the operating environment as a “hybrid threat with state, nonstate and criminal actors. From the unit on the ground perspective, they’ll have a mix of combined arms maneuver and wide-area security, so they’ll see some offensive and defensive tasks and some stability tasks, and from the brigade headquarters perspective, they’re working in a constructive simulation construct. They’ll also have inputs that come in to them from a simulated force that is embedded in their common operational picture.”
The overall strategic and tactical training aspect of NIEs can at times get lost among the industry fights over radio waveforms and complaints from the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office about problems with technologies under evaluation. While new technologies are the primary reason NIEs exist, they are also key events in helping the Army understand how to fight with these new technologies and how to train soldiers to work with some of the latest experimental technologies in an operational environment.
Still, Dragon said the focus of NIEs remains linking soldiers to the Army’s developmental Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, with an emphasis on establishing a midtier radio connection using Maingate, developed by Raytheon and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Harris’ 117G radios. Each will be given to a separate battalion to evaluate. Each is competing for the Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio (MNVR) requirement, which will replace the canceled Ground Mobile Radio system.
A new wrinkle to this iteration of the NIE, dubbed 13.1, is that one infantry company will act completely dismounted. The company will be issued the Nett Warrior system, which consists of a General Dynamics-made Rifleman Radio connected to a smartphone-like device from which soldiers can push voice, data and imagery to other tactical units, as well as brigade headquarters.
The network connection will also reach Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., where the Army is evaluating BAE System’s Paladin PIM self-propelled howitzer. The connection will allow “a digital call for fire all the way from the observer on the ground to the fire unit, who is part of the network, which means you have a man in the loop determining whether to shoot or not to shoot,” Dragon said.
The exercise this time will also take place on some level at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where BAE Systems will demonstrate its new Phoenix two-channel radio using the Wideband Networking Waveform, a company spokeswoman said. The radio will be networked into the NIE exercise, she said, and it is the company’s effort to compete for the MNVR.