After receiving coordinates on the Nett Warrior system, US soldiers prepare to move out during Network Integration Evaluation 13.1 last year. (US Army)
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WASHINGTON — US Army leaders continue to insist — somehow — that the next Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) event at the White Sands Missile Range won’t suffer any major effects from sequestration or budget cuts, but admitted that changes are likely coming.
The first tangible change is that the NIE set to kick off this month was delayed by a week due to the government shutdown.
As supplemental wartime funding accounts dry up and rapid equipping organizations set up to handle wartime needs begin to disappear, the Army’s biannual test and evaluation process “will not be the same, because the resources aren’t there,” Lt. Gen. Keith Walker said on Oct. 22.
Over the past decade, Iraq and Afghanistan have acted as a sort of “laboratory” for rapid innovation, Walker said. But now that US troops are heading for the exits in Afghanistan, “we want NIE to be that laboratory.”
With force reductions that will likely bring the Army below the 490,000 soldier threshold that it has been working toward for the past several years and tighter budgets, keeping the NIE in its current form will likely prove difficult, though service officials would not provide any details.
Walker insists that since the Army will need to continue to develop, test and evaluate new technologies, spending money on the NIE is still worth it since “you can either test them independently” at different labs and test areas around the country, “or what if you bring them together and reduce the overhead” by testing them all together.
The general also pushed back against scaling down the size of the event from two a year to just one, arguing that “it would be better to do two smaller NIEs than one bigger NIE.” Too many tests would have to be squeezed into one event, he said, making it more difficult to get anything of value out of putting new technologies in the hands of solders, and seeing how they perform.
For the time being, however, Army leadership insists that the NIE is on, and it’s not going anywhere.