December 1, 2011  

Try before you buy

To the Army, for its Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs).

After years of high-profile acquisition failures — Future Combat Systems was only the most spectacular — the service is trying a different approach.

Rather than develop requirements, launch an acquisition program and only years later test technical performance, Army program officials have begun putting new systems and gear into soldiers’ hands and letting them write report cards before plunging ahead with a purchase.

For now, this change is most visible in the efforts to field a battlefield network. The service recently wrapped up its second NIE at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where generals listened carefully to sergeants and corporals about what was working and what wasn’t. Crucially, such feedback from the first NIE has already reshaped several acquisition efforts.

The Army has a long, long way to go to get its acquisition processes into the realm of acceptable performance — witness the $100-million-and-counting effort to pick a new carbine — but this is a good start.