Navy sets sail for COTS solutions
- By Bob Brewin, Brad Bass, John Monroe
- Apr 13, 1997
The Navy's Pacific and Atlantic fleets have embraced a new warfighting network architecture designed to replace stovepiped tactical systems on ships and incompatible shore-based administrative systems with commercial hardware and software by the Year 2000.
Under the multimillion-dollar strategy called Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) the Navy will migrate major elements of its tactical and administrative systems from the Unix environment to one based on Intel Corp.'s Pentium PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating system Microsoft Exchange messaging software and Windows 97 office automation.
To date Navy users on land or at sea have been segregated into either the Unix camp for tactical and other mission-critical applications or the Windows-based PC camp for administrative applications. Once installed the IT-21 infrastructure will create a seamless worldwide architecture for users throughout the Navy.
But some Defense Department IT managers view IT-21 as a quick fix that addresses a problem facing the fleet they do not believe it is a long-term strategy.
The Fleet's SolutionIT-21 was formally adopted late last month by the commanders of the Pacific and Atlantic fleets. In a memo to fleet commanders Adm. Archie Clemins the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet who spearheaded IT-21 during his recently concluded tour as commander of the 7th Fleet called IT-21 a "reprioritization of [command control communications computers and intelligence] programs of record to accelerate the transition to a PC-based tactical/tactical-support warfighting network."
IT-21 is "user-driven not Beltway-driven " Clemins said.
Clemins interviewed at his headquarters at Pearl Harbor Hawaii said he believes commercial networked PCs can more than meet the Navy's needs - and at a lower cost. "A PC will do today what a workstation can do - and at one-tenth the cost " Clemins said.
Critical to the successful adoption of IT-21 observers said is its adoption in the fleets. "This is not a Beltway solution it's a solution arrived at by the fleet " a source said. Most important Clemins not only made it a standard in his own territory - the Pacific - but he also got the buy-in from the Atlantic Fleet. Backing from both shorelines is more important than any IT policy generated by the Pentagon sources said.
According to industry sources familiar with the program Clemins is focused primarily on "engineering the convergence of the tactical and nontactical" computing infrastructures. That would give battle planners access to command and control systems and to support systems such as logistics medical and personnel.Additionally the servicewide uniform environment will provide seamless connectivity between ship and shore users. Clemins "wants ships to be able to come into [a Navy port] and just plug into the [local-area network] on that base and not miss a beat " an industry source said.
The less-costly infrastructure also will allow for a proliferation of end-user systems. Eventually Clemins would like to see every officer have Windows NT on the desktop with workstations provided for every five enlisted seamen sources said.
IT-21 however has received only a lukewarm endorsement from top Navy IT managers inside the Beltway. Although acting Navy chief information officer Marvin Langston applauded the IT-21 effort and said it will help the service deal with its Year 2000 problem by ridding the Navy of noncompliant infrastructure he said he viewed the project as merely a preliminary step in the development of broader policies and standards.
"Just pushing Microsoft is not going to solve all of our problems " Langston said. "These standards do not represent CIO standards. We in the CIO operation have to get these issues resolved at a broader level."We are not eliminating all Unix machines " Langston added. "We will be in a hybrid environment for a long time. The technology and the infrastructure will always be evolving dynamically."
Langston said the department has had some difficulty scraping up funds to support the initiative. He said service officials hoped to reprogram more than $100 million for the effort but were only able to come up with $8 million.
Industry SupportBut industry observers applaud IT-21 calling it an aggressive and large-scale effort to adopt more widely used commercial off-the-shelf technology in the warfighting environment. The approach "mirrors exactly the direction the leading customers in corporate America are doing " said Bill Lake Navy sales manager at Electronic Data Systems Corp. which holds a number of Navy contracts.
Industry also praised the way the Navy will acquire the equipment. The service plans to lease rather than buy the new products either through the General Services Administration schedule or through indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity vehicles modified to include a leasing option. Langston said the service will soon publish a notice in the Commerce Business Daily seeking comments from industry on its outsourcing plans.
Support for using COTS also comes from Navy users in the Pacific. Capt. Mark Lenci who helped install the prototype IT-21 networks on the USS Blue Ridge the 7th Fleet's command ship said use of commercial technology will save the Navy from the built-in obsolescence of the acquisition cycle.
Lenci interviewed aboard the Blue Ridge off the coast of Australia last month called IT-21 a reaction by fleet users against "the existing method of the design and acquisition of C4I systems which gave us yesterday's technology for today's problems tomorrow."