Navy moves ahead with ambitious communications network

WASHINGTON - Leaders of the U.S. Navy plan to award a contract worth an estimated $10 billion in June to build a Navy/ Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), despite harsh criticism from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO)

May 1st, 2000

By J.R. Wilson

WASHINGTON - Leaders of the U.S. Navy plan to award a contract worth an estimated $10 billion in June to build a Navy/

Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), despite harsh criticism from the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) - the investigative arm of Congress. The NMCI is to become operational by December 2001.

Four contractor teams, representing nearly every major communications, networking and systems company in the United States, are vying for the award.

Experts say the NMCI architecture also will give the victor a major boost in competing for future systems for the U.S. Army, Air Force, and other U.S. government agencies and foreign governments.

Heading the competing teams are Computer Sciences Corp. in El Segundo, Calif.; Electronic Data Systems (EDS) of Herndon, Va; General Dynamics (GD) Advanced Technology Systems of Greensboro, N.C.; and IBM Global Government Industry Communications in Bethesda, Md.

Navy leaders say they want the NMCI project to give private industry the responsibility and risk of providing and managing most Navy desktop, server, infrastructure, communication assets, and services, and switch that responsibility away from the Navy.

The NMCI, Navy leaders say, will "enable and enhance enterprise-wide work, training and quality of life for every Navy and Marine Corps service member and employee." It will provide secure access to voice, video, and data services, claims Joseph Cipriano, program executive officer for information technology at the Pentagon and the man in charge of developing NMCI.

Congressional auditors, however, see the program differently.

GAO officials sent a report in March to the House Armed Services subcommittee on military readiness in which they called the NMCI "unnecessarily risky" and its December 2001 initial operational capability "an aggressive, service-established goal not driven by specific mission needs."

Cipriano counters that NMCI's timetable represents the best way to combine Navy/Marine Corps information technology (IT) resources into an integrated intranet capability.

"The commercial market is really driving the technology cycles and we just want to ride on the back of that," Cipriano says. Navy officials favor commercially developed technology "so we can take advantage of the R&D investments industry is making without having to invest our own R&D."

Trusting private business with deciding on which technology to use "frees them to make a lot of trades versus initial investments," Cipriano says. "Industry is very good at that, so we expect to get some very interesting proposals."

Navy leaders say their current mix of systems is not only inefficient - and, in some cases inadequately secure - but also impedes information sharing and requires too many resources to operate, maintain, and integrate. In addition, the differing levels of capability and security drive network operations to the lowest common denominator, they say. This, he says, results in an operational capability that is far from optimal.

By contrast, Cipriano calls NMCI an enabler that not only addresses those issues, but also gives fighting forces access to experts and data located within the continental United States (CONUS). On the non-combat side, he sees it improving how the services manage their business, such as deploying a new personnel system or dealing with electronic commerce.

"Anything that isn't web-based in the future won't be able to deploy fast enough to get everywhere it needs to be," he says, pointing out that speed and ease of connection in moving data are paramount in an era when a relatively small U.S. military force must shoulder many global responsibilities.

What is notable about the NMCI is its scope and reach, Cipriano says. "The piece we're implementing now goes up to the piers," he says. At pierside, the system connects to ships over an asynchronous transfer mode network and to teleports, where it connects to ships at sea via satellite.

"The interface with the operating forces is standardized across the services and, to some extent, with the allies as well," Cipriano says. So interoperability with the allies will be maintained.

In defense of the NMCI, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig wrote a letter to the military readiness subcommittee, in which he called the program necessary and well structured.

"First, we are now operating more than a hundred different data and communications networks," Danzig wrote. "Managing our network capabilities under a single commercial service provider can yield great economies of scale, improvements in compatibility and more effective and efficient communication and data exchange. Second, commercial Internet technology is changing with remarkable rapidity. Third, the present state of the market for Internet services permits us to procure these services from the commercial sector just as we buy other types of utilities."

Initially, NMCI will be continental U.S. based, with nodes extending to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and U.S. naval bases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Keflavik, Iceland. The system eventually will expand to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Far East, and Western Pacific, says Rear Adm. Richard Mayo, director of space, information warfare, command, and control at the Pentagon.

"I don't think any of us can really see all of the benefits that will accrue in the long run," Mayo says. "One of the hallmarks of the information age is these kinds of capabilities take off and lead to improvements no one ever contemplated. It all gets down to improved decision making, fast timelines, and improved situational awareness, both afloat and ashore."

The Marines have a different view of NMCI. The system is a force multiplier for global warfighting capability because it provides a direct connection between tactical data systems, between deployed forces ashore and at sea, and provides a command and informational structure at home, says Brig. Gen. Robert Shea, the Marine Corps assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence.

"We could connect from any place on Earth back to a CONUS physics lab and get all the information we need," Shea says. In addition, the system could provide Marines in the field with telemedical services. Of particular interest could be the NMCI's ability to help deployed forces rehearse dangerous missions.

"Because of the extension and virtual connectivity this gives us around the Marine Corps, we see no reason why a Marine unit afloat or ashore couldn't pass their war plan back to Quantico and ask them to wargame that plan," Shea says.

NMCI also could improve logistics, extend new maintenance procedures to fielded forces who may not have been trained for certain kinds of repairs, export lectures from the Marine Corps University to any location on the globe, and even provide remote training or mission planning/rehearsal capabilities to the field, Shea says.

"This is an enabler for the Marine Corps," he says. "As hard as we can think of ways this will enable us, when our Marines begin to deploy this capability, we'll find ways to operate quicker and smarter than ever before. And in the long run, that will enhance warfighting capability."

Given those applications and recent increases in unauthorized penetrations of computer systems, security is a major part of the NMCI requirement.

Simply moving some current military traffic from the highly vulnerable public Internet to NMCI will improve security somewhat, as will replacing hundreds of independent networks and computer systems with one network with a unified intruder detection capability. Toward that end, the program office has allocated a contractor performance incentive of as much as $10 million a year for good security performance.

To earn that, the service provider must be able to detect and respond to intrusion attempts quickly and predictably. Government "red teams" will monitor performance by making unscheduled attacks on the system analyzing any real threats that may arise.

The contractor will develop the overall security plan, Cipriano says. Such a plan must include public key infrastructure cards issued to every authorized user. If an unauthorized person tries to access NMCI without a card or from a remote computer not equipped with a public key infrastructure cardreader, NMCI will permit only limited access to basic, non-classified information.

The majority of the estimated 400,000-plus "seats" that the NMCI plan calls for will be classified-capable, housed in government facilities with multiple levels of security. Reserve and active-duty personnel at home will also allocate some non-classified seats to Navy and Marine Corps recruiters with offices in public buildings as well as laptop computers for use in non-government offices and elsewhere away from secured duty stations.

That aspect is of special importance to the Naval Reserve Force (NRF), which has taken on an increasingly large share of the nation's military duties as active forces have been dramatically reduced even while peacetime deployments have reached record highs.

"To execute that increased role, we need the same IT toolset to not only serve the active-duty force better but to do it through an electronic parity arrangement says Capt. Martin Menez, deputy chief of staff for information technology at NRF headquarters in New Orleans. "This is really going to tap the potential of the reserve force - which is 20 percent of the Navy - and raise the general tide of productivity throughout the Navy."

NMCI "will form the benchmark and the successful contractor who performs well will clearly be in a more advantageous position to address other requirements," predicts Austin Yerks, senior vice president of business development for CSC's defense group.

"There are no public statements from the other services that they will use this particular contract as a base, but clearly this concept will become dominant in the future," Yerks says.

Principal members of the CSC team include Bell Atlantic Communications in New York; Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.; Dell Computer Corp. of Round Rock, Texas; GTE Internetworking in Burlington, Mass.; and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash.

Putting all technology refreshment in the hands of industry will give the Navy "access to that technology when it is available rather than waiting 18 to 24 months for a procurement to take place," says Rick Rosenburg, the NMCI program executive at EDS. On the EDS team as principal partners are Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass. and MCI Worldcom Inc. in Clinton, Miss.

On the GD team are Compuware Corp. of Farmington Hills, Mich.; Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla.; PriceWaterhouseCoopers of New York; Sprint Corp. of Westwood, Kan.; Unisys Corp. of Blue Bell, Pa.; and Wang Government Services Inc. of McLean, Va.

The The U.S. Department of Defense's-specific mission requirements of NMCI are "a bit more difficult to design to, it shouldn't adversely impact technology insertion," explains Mike Ellingson an executive at the IBM NMCI bidder. "If anything, these mission requirements may push more rapid refresh." The communications-heavy IBM team includes AT&T Corp. of New York; BAE Systems of Rockville, Md.; BellSouth Corp. in Atlanta; Litton PRC in McLean, Va.; Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, Md.; Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J.; SBC Communications Inc. of San Antonio, Texas; AirTouch Cellular Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif.; and User Technology Group Inc. of Arlington, Va.

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