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Army's golden child loses the training wheels

The training wheels are coming off.

Despite the accolades heaped on the Army's Network Integration Evaluation, the first two iterations were considered practice runs, to a certain degree.

Sure, the NIE has already eaten up a struggling program -- the Ground Mobile Radio. And there are already a few critics of the program. But for a service that has struggled to improve its acquisition enterprise, the NIE is a stunning success story.

Soldiers with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division have returned to the ranges at Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M. to start the third iteration of the NIE. Army officials say they expect to receive an even higher level of comprehensive feedback from this NIE.

The focus of this iteration will be the mobile satellite communications network called the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical Increment 2. Army officials also hope to establish Capability Set 13.

The Army's top brass have already made their rounds to Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range to get a first hand look at the  NIE and show their commitment to the evaluation. Heidi Shyu, the Army's top weapons buyer, commended the NIE, saying she hoped the service could do a better job integrating the Army's science and technology strategy.

"I am a huge proponent of the NIE. The next step is to more fully integrate the S&T community, so as to ensure that we are doing S&T that will be relevant to solving capability gaps," Shyu said.

Army Secretary John McHugh and Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, also stopped by for a visit. McHugh said the NIE is critical toward saving the service money on big ticket programs in this age of budget austerity. Army officials estimate the NIE has already saved the service $6 billion.

“We have economic challenges in this nation, and the military budget reflects those as well, but it’s critical that we continue to modernize and give our Soldiers the best possible equipment, the best possible platforms with which they can do the hard work of freedom in to the future,” McHugh said in a statement. “Key to that is doing it effectively, yes, but also doing it efficiently. And this NIE is a critical component to make sure that we can, in an affordable way, continue to modernize and give our Soldiers the best available equipment.”

Military.com will get its own first hand look at the NIE next week when I spend Tuesday and Wednesday on the ground talking to soldiers and seeing if the Army is on track toward modernizing its battlefield communications system. Leave any questions or issues you want me to ask in the comments section or Tweet me at @_MichaelHoffman. I'll do my best to get those questions answered.

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