Multi-billion-dollar Navy CANES shipboard networking program held up for protest: here we go again

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 9 Sept. 2014. We live in an era of protest and contention; I understand that. You can't escape this facet of our culture even if you're just trying to relax in front of the game. NFL football routinely protests referee calls pending review on camera instant replay. Major League Baseball started something similar this season.

After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 9 Sept. 2014. We live in an era of protest and contention; I understand that. You can't escape this facet of our culture even if you're just trying to relax in front of the game. NFL football routinely protests referee calls pending review on camera instant replay. Major League Baseball started something similar this season.

Everyone has a right to protest -- I get that -- but sometimes I have to sigh in frustration because protests so often get in the way of getting things done. If I'm watching a game, I don't want to see referees and umpires reviewing replays. I'd rather watch base hits, long runs, and home runs (not necessarily on that order).

The same culture of protest infects our defense industry. There are competitions for military protests that can take years. When contracts are awarded, inevitably there are protests from the companies not selected, which drags out the programs even longer.

Not surprisingly, many of these contracts subject to protest involve big money.

Two recent examples are the Navy's Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) airborne electronic warfare program, and the Navy's Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) shipboard networking program.

Related: Contractor protests could hold up Navy CANES shipboard networking program until December

The Navy awarded Raytheon the NGJ contract in July 2013. It involved $279.4 million to start, and probably a lot more money later. The project involves designing advanced radar and communications jamming systems for the Navy EA-18 Growler carrier-based electronic warfare jet.

That protest wasn't settled for seven months, dragging out a badly needed program to bolster Navy electronic warfare capability. Now comes the CANES program to manufacture shipboard networking equipment for the Navy's surface warship fleet. This contract involves as much as $2.53 billion.

The CANES equipment manufacturing contract was awarded to five companies last month, but predictably the losers protested the contract, which holds up the program for at least three months and perhaps even longer.

Related: Raytheon resumes work on the Next-Generation Jammer: was a seven-month delay worth it?

Okay, I'd be the last one to deny anyone his right to protest. Our Founding Fathers declared that a God-given right, not a government-bestowed privilege. Still, just because someone has the right to protest doesn't always make it a smart thing to do.

The Navy has been working on the NGJ and CANES programs for years, and there's a real sense of urgency in a world with overflowing conflict and strife. Can the armed forces -- and we as a nation -- afford to drag out these technology development programs any longer than necessary.

To paraphrase Churchill, democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. Far be it from me to suggest that protest might be a bad thing from time to time.

Related: Navy chooses Raytheon to build Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) for EA-18G and other aircraft

Never mind that we live in a world more dangerous than it's been in decades. Never mind that our nation's military superiority is eroding quickly. Never mind that potential adversaries like Russia and China are approaching technological parity with the U.S. military. Never mind that there are several regional conflicts throughout the world that threaten to explode over the globe ...

... and never mind me and my protests; maybe I just woke up in a bad mood this morning.

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