Pentagon kicks off networking renovation

As part of a decade-long wedge-by-wedge renovation of the Pentagon the Defense Department plans to award a single 10-year systems integration contract worth several hundred million dollars to build a new communications backbone and management capability.

The Pentagon Information Management and Telecommunications Renovation program will replace the building's existing amalgam of networks with a facility-wide high-speed communications backbone and modern interoperable local-area networks - all of it managed by up-to-date network and information management control centers.

"What we are trying to do is build a backbone infrastructure to support all the bits of information - voice video or data - throughout the building " said Col. Scipio deKanter project manager for the communications renovation program.Although initial estimates put the value of the program at $200 million to $300 million most potential bidders believe the overall price tag could approach $1 billion as the work and the technology evolve.

Network Medley

At present the Pentagon has a "hodgepodge of networks" that have built up over decades as different offices put in stand-alone systems to meet their particular requirements. In some cases users need to go through networks outside the building to get access to other Pentagon networks deKanter said.

This setup hinders DOD's ability to take advantage of many of the new information systems and technologies under development today. "We've got things coming down the pike [such as] the Defense Message System and distance learning that we are going to have to accommodate " deKanter said.

The complexity of this program which will span the Pentagon's 6.6 million square feet is expected to limit the field of vendors that will bid as primes industry sources said. Additionally DOD in its draft request for proposals released in April made it clear that vendors were expected to be familiar with Pentagon operations and requirements sources said.

Lucent Technologies Inc. confirmed its plan to bid as a prime. Boeing Information Services and GTE Corp. also are reported to be looking for team members and Computer Sciences Corp. confirmed it was very interested in the program although it had not decided on its strategy.

The project involves more than just pulling cables according to DOD and industry sources. DOD is looking for a systems integrator to manage the technical and logistical challenges of the work.

The communications renovation will take place hand in hand with the Army Corps of Engineers' exhaustive overhaul of the building's structure. One wedge at a time the Corps will tear the interior apart in some cases to the foundation. Personnel in the affected wing will move to temporary quarters.As the Corps puts a new structure in place the information technology contractor will follow close behind to lay in the communications infrastructure. Along the way the contractor also will connect the wedges that have not been refurbished.

DOD expects the work on each wedge to take about two years making it an estimated 10-year job. The contractor will be responsible for seamless operations as the technology evolves during that time span. "The critical command and control systems have to be up and running and cannot experience down time as part of the renovation effort " deKanter said.

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