Can the US Navy rebuild its entire computer system?

The US Navy operates many of the largest computer networks in the world. Now, he intends to simultaneously merge these networks and change the way the new, larger IT company is managed and supported. Initially, the Navy hired a single team of contractors for its largest of its networks, the Navy-Marine Corps Internet (NMCI), as part of a project known as the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN). . The Navy decided to split the successor to this project, called NGEN-Recompete (NGEN-R), into two blocks, one involving hardware and the other involving software and support activities. Upon awarding the new contract, the Navy indeed made the decision to fire the two companies that have supported its IT efforts for decades, in favor of an entirely new company. This is a very risky step that could harm the Sailors and Marines who have to rely on these computer networks.

The current NGEN contract supports two of Sea Services’ main networks, the NMCI and the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN), which has been in place for many years. NGEN is responsible for networks involving some 400,000 computers and 800,000 users at 2,500 sites, primarily in the continental United States, but also at several Marine Corps sites overseas.

As part of the NGEN-R program, the US Navy awarded follow-up contracts to support, maintain and modernize Navy-Marine computer networks. NGEN-R will provide secure data and IT services, such as data storage, email, cloud services and video conferencing for ships and Navy and Marine Corps locations around the world. Additionally, the new effort will integrate NMCI, MCEN, and OCONUS Navy Enterprise Network (ONE-Net).

NGEN-R departs from how the Navy previously structured and managed contracts for hardware and network support and services. While NGEN is a single global contract in which management responsibilities fall to the private contractor, the Navy has chosen to assume the overall management role of NGEN-R. Additionally, she chose to split the current effort into multiple contracts. The first part, called the End User Equipment Contract (EUHW), focuses on the supply of equipment. The second contract, called Service Management Integration and Transport (SMIT), encompasses a wide range of network services, such as software development, systems integration, user support, and network defense.

The EUHW contract, which could last nine years and represent a potential of $ 1.4 billion, was awarded late last year to HPI Federal. The heart of this company is the former Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which has supported NMCI since the early 2000s. It is a relatively straightforward hardware sourcing contact with new twists, such as automatic updating of technology. In addition, EUHW provides the option for the Navy to adopt the hardware as a service model and to lease computers and other equipment.

The bulk of the NGEN-R is the SMIT contract, which could last up to nine years and be worth up to $ 7.7 billion. It was awarded last month at Leidos, the relatively new spin-off of Science Applications International Corporation.

This decision to go with a new player in the naval networking space removed the two historic providers that had supported each of the major Navy-Marine Corp network domains (NMCI and ONE-Net) for 30 years combined. The first, Perspecta, had supported NMCI since the early 2000s. The second, GDIT, had been proof ONE-Net through CSRA since 2011. Now these networks, which form the backbone of the Navy’s IT department, will be in a state of massive transformation over the next nine months as Leidos takes the helm. When he does, he will learn how these networks work and where there have been problems in the past, while trying to inject new capacity into the system.

The sailors and navies who depend on these networks will now have to overcome the expected setbacks as this massive transition begins. Moreover, it is likely that as Leidos tries to put its arms around all the parts of this massive network that required modernization projects, the modernization projects will be pushed back, meaning that the NMCI backbone / ONE-NET will be anything but new and improved. On top of that, the Navy wants to merge these parallel networks, which in itself is a colossal task. It will be a challenge enough for Leidos to learn how current networks operate, let alone make the changes necessary to achieve the Navy’s lofty goals.

In the way it drafted the requirements and rating criteria for NGEN-R, the Navy made it clear that it wanted a new company to take over. One way to do this was to eliminate any consideration for past performance and experience with Navy-Marine Corps networks. This does not make sense, given the massive and complex nature of these networks and the desire of the Services to merge and transform them. But the Navy acquisition wanted to make a change to demonstrate how forward-looking they were when it came to procurement reform.

What looks good on paper doesn’t translate into success in practice. By removing nearly 30 combined years of institutional knowledge and experience in managing the NMCI and ONE-Net programs, the Navy is making a very risky bet: that it can orchestrate the transformation of two networks within an IT environment. essential to the mission without disrupting operations, safety or performance. In addition, by assuming project management responsibilities, the Navy will be supported by a contractor with no experience in operating the networks concerned.

The NGEN-R SMIT award comes at a time when the Department of the Navy (DON) faces enormous pressure. It faces cuts to existing program budgets to fund the development, construction and maintenance of its largest fleet, while struggling to sustain a high operational tempo and fix a faulty maintenance system. In addition, the Department’s networks are constantly attacked by increasingly sophisticated cyber adversaries. Finally, all the Services are struggling to make up for the delay in the technological modernization of their computer networks. If SMIT’s goals are delayed or costs rise, Sailors and Marines will pay the price.

The Navy supply may believe that the removal of incumbents is a “mission accomplished”. However, in doing so, it imposed an impossible task on those tasked with operating and transitioning these critical computer networks within the nine-month time frame. Again, combatants will have to manage the decisions that procurement officials make without thinking about operational impacts.

Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is vice-chair of the Lexington Institute Public Policy Research Think Tank. Goure has experience in the public sector and the US Federal Government, most recently as a member of the Department of Defense Transition Team in 2001. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full biography here.

His article first appeared at RealClearDefense on March 10.

Image: A US Navy crew member aboard a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft looks at a computer screen allegedly showing a Chinese construction on reclaimed land from Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands from the sea from southern China in this still image from video provided by the United States Navy, May 21, 2015. US Navy / Handout via Reuters

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Gordon K. Morehouse