Navy changes course on IT outsourcing

A contractor will build the next-generation network, but it will be the service’s job to manage and defend the system.

The Navy, which had outsourced the management and defense of its most crucial network to industry, plans to bring that function back in-house, saying it now views such information technology functions as a "warfighting imperative," requiring the service's managers to supervise the systems.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The Navy and Marine Corps need to provide commanders with operational control of all networks and IT services for timely and accurate information, which commanders view as the lifeblood of all other operations and which is a "critical warfighting capability," according to the Naval Networking Environment Strategy -- 2016, released on Thursday.

For that reason, Navy Chief Information Officer Robert Carey, who issued the strategy paper, noted that it was essential for the service to assume central design authority role for the new networks. That function is a sea change from the Navy's current approach. In 2000, the service outsourced its core network, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, which serves 650,000 users, to EDS through a $10 billion contract. The contract expires in 2010.

"This is a different approach than NMCI, which provides the Navy a solid foundation for its next-generation strategy," said Randy Dove, an EDS spokesman.

The near-term focus of the new network, the strategy document noted, is to replace NMCI with a follow-on contract, called the Next Generation Enterprise Network. The Navy plans to issue a request for proposals this fall, which will likely require the winning contractor to build the system but not operate it, as EDS has done under the NMCI contract.

At the same time, Navy wants to consolidate other networks to improve security and boost global interoperability, the strategy paper noted. These networks include the Outside the Continental U.S. Navy Enterprise Network, which serves 41,000 users overseas and will be incorporated into the NGEN and a new network the Navy will use at sea, called the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprises Services.

Fleet commanders view today's dual ashore and afloat network structure as not capable of supporting secure, reliable and redundant global communications, functions that are required during war, according to the strategy document. It added that "unnecessary diversification at this level cannot happen" if the Navy wants to meet its new network goals.

The Navy also plans to stand up a new network called the Marine Corps Enterprise Information Technology Services, to replace the Marine Corps Enterprise Network. In addition, the service is looking to set-up a Maritime headquarters operations center that will provide a high-level operational command-and-control system for Navy networks, the strategy paper noted.

Connectivity for the initial phase of NGEN will be provided by the Defense Information Systems Agency for both unclassified and secret networks, the strategy paper said. EDS supplied circuits for NMCI through a subcontract with MCI WorldCom, now part of Verizon. The strategy paper noted the Navy, if needed, would augment DISA circuits with its own purchases.

DISA's Net-Centric Enterprise Services suite of software tools for collaboration, search and service-oriented architecture and the Defense Knowledge Online portal will "play a significant role in shaping the future strategies" needed to take the Navy's networks from vision to reality, the strategy paper said.

The current suite of desktop applications the Navy uses is based on the Microsoft Office product line, but the service plans to look into expanding its use of Web client software for its PCs and mobile devices, the strategy paper noted.

Built-in security is a key component of the new network architecture, according to the strategy document, because Navy and Marine networks are targeted daily by sophisticated hackers, and the new networks must provide a secure, agile, integrated and defendable worldwide environment to support global operations.