Officials worry Army’s NIE is too expensive

Questions have arisen about the Network Integration Evaluation's $260 million annual price tag.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Officials inside and outside the Army have started to question if the Network Integration Evaluation is worth the $260 million price tag it cost to run it last year.

Army leaders stood up the evaluation two years ago to test and develop the service’s new battlefield radios – the service’s top modernization priority. The service has since held the NIE up as an acquisition success story following the 2009 cancellation of Future Combat Systems, a $160 billion program which included the radio network.

The NIE has already saved the Army money. Soldiers testing the Ground Mobile Radio highlighted the programs flaws and the officials canceled it shortly after the service released the NIE’s test results.

Army Lt. Gen. William Phillips, military deputy to the Army’s acquisition executive, said the NIE has accomplished much in its short history, but like every military program, it must keep a close eye on costs.

“There are folks who will look at it from a funding perspective too. And is the NIE costing too much? And some have,” Phillips said. “We have to do this. We can’t afford not to.”

The NIE is run twice a year at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and Fort Bliss, Texas. Soldiers with 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, test different components of the Army Network ranging from smartphones to command and control networks.

Army leaders must explain to Congress and those inside the Army that the costs to run the program are offset by the potential savings of figuring out what works and what doesn’t before systems reach the battlefield.

“The Army has to be able to continue to articulate that the cost of the NIE is this, and the cost benefit and savings are these,” Phillips said.

An Army spokesman explained that the Army had to pay more up front to stand up the NIE and officials expect the costs to shrink as the service learns to run it more efficiently.

Costs have already dropped in the NIE’s third year. The Army’s budget request for the NIE in 2013 shrunk to $214 million.

U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command have found ways to more affordably collect and analyze data during the evaluation, said. Paul Mehney, an Army spokesman.

Officials have even cut costs before an NIE starts by holding more tests on systems that will eventually go to White Sands and Fort Bliss at the new laboratories at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Mehney said.

The NIE’s success in its first two years has brought with it additional scrutiny. Army and defense industry officials have said they worry the NIE could grow too big and lose its agile edge to test systems quickly.

“We don’t want to bite off too much and we don’t want to have too many programs that are out there. We have to be careful that we right size the number of systems we want to take out and put in the hands of soldiers. So they’re not overstressed and they can look at these systems so we get the best feedback possible,” Phillips said.