Vendors press Army to release JNN RFP

Clamor grows for next phase of Joint Network Nodes

After getting the Army to consider accepting competitive bids to build more Joint Network Nodes (JNN), defense contractors say they want the service to release a solicitation as soon as possible.

The Army planned to request bids earlier this month for the multimillion- dollar acquisition of JNN equipment and services for three more Army units. However, the service ultimately chose to wait a few more weeks to review the request for proposals to make sure it included the most current technology.

Mounted on Humvees, the network nodes make IP-based communications more mobile in hostile environments and rugged terrain. Using JNN equipment, networks can move with Army units.

Defense companies, including Northrop Grumman and EDO, pressed the Army to move forward from the sole-source contract it awarded to General Dynamics last year for the communications systems. Northrop Grumman and EDO officials said the Army turned to General Dynamics to fill an immediate warfighting requirement in Iraq.

The service awarded sole-source deals to General Dynamics for the first seven systems. But Northrop Grumman and EDO officials think the service should now accept competitive bids to equip the next three Army units in line to receive JNN systems.

"I've talked to senior Army leaders about the need to get the RFP out and to get on with the competition," said Jim Hardin, director of business development for command, control and communications at Northrop Grumman Information Technology. The business unit has expertise with the service's systems. It designed the Force XXI Battle Brigade-and-Below unit, which gives soldiers access to warfighting data on the battlefield.

Hardin said General Dynamics received hundreds of millions of dollars to build the first seven JNN systems. He said other defense companies deserve an opportunity to bid on the next three.

"We're talking about a considerable amount of money, and we think there should be competition for that," said John Cook, strategic development director at EDO's Command, Control, Communications and Computers business unit. The company built the Marine Corps' Joint Enhanced Core Communications System, which is similar to JNN.

Cook said the cost of building and training for the next three JNNs is more than $200 million.

An industry official familiar with the new JNN procurement said delaying the RFP could provide an advantage to General Dynamics. The official said the longer it takes the Army to release the RFP, the easier it is for the service to justify awarding continued sole-source contracts to General Dynamics. The company has already built JNNs and could conceivably do it quicker.

"I'm sure the incumbent is trying to delay this," the industry official said. "Any incumbent would. I hope this is not the reason it is being delayed."

General Dynamics representatives declined to comment.

Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's chief information officer, said earlier this month that he and Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, the service's top acquisition officer, want more time to review the RFP to ensure that it includes the latest technology.

Boutelle said General Dynamics is not the only company getting JNN work. He said DataPath, a small business located in Norcross, Ga., builds the system's satellite communications and command trailers.

The nodes provide voice over IP, dynamic IP, videoconferencing and access to the military's classified and unclassified networks. Commanders at headquarters and soldiers operating in the field can use JNN, which is an essential part of the Army's new Joint Network Transport Capability.

Phasing in JNN

The Army's new Joint Network Node (JNN) procurement covers three more units under the program's third phase. An industry official familiar with the procurement said JNN will go to the 1st Armored Division, the 2nd Infantry Division and a third unit.

The Army and Congress reached a deal last year that reworked funding and earmarked $247 million for soldiers in the 101st Airborne, 10th Mountain and 4th Infantry divisions to receive JNN under the program's first phase. Soldiers in the 1st Cavalry, 25th Infantry and 82nd Airborne divisions will get the system under Phase 2. Soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq use the first version of the mobile, IP-based battlefield communications system.

-- Frank Tiboni

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