Joint Chiefs revisit DMS; COTS likely

The Pentagon Joint Staff has launched a sweeping study of the Defense Message System FCW has learned including a re-evaluation of requirements set almost a decade ago and the technology solutions offered by DMS contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

Defense Department sources expect the study commissioned by Lt. Gen. Douglas Buchholz the director for command control communications and computers for the Joint Staff to be finished in less than two months. Sources predict that as a result of the study the Joint Staff will recommend fielding a "highly commercial" DMS that carries an "affordable price tag" and is more similar to commercial e-mail products than the "gold plated" system Lockheed Martin developed to specifications written at the end of the Cold War.

A spokesman for the Joint Staff last week confirmed the existence of the study but declined to provide any details calling it "a work in progress."

The Defense Information Systems Agency which manages the DMS program did not respond to requests for comment on the DMS study. Lockheed Martin declined to comment.

Real-world tactical experience by top commanders with commercial e-mail systems served as the impetus for the Joint Staff's decision to re-evaluate DMS these sources said.

"The experience of the Navy off Taiwan last year [when the Pacific Fleet sailed a carrier battle group off Taiwan as China conducted missile tests close to that island] and the Army's [experience] in Bosnia showed the Joint Staff that commercial e-mail systems could do the job " said one well-placed source. These highly visible and successful uses of commercial e-mail to control forces caused users to ask "why are we spending time and money on DMS?" the source added.

The Pentagon conceived DMS as a highly secure replacement for the Autodin message system used to send highly classified message traffic such as nuclear weapon launch orders. It was designed as a secure DOD-wide e-mail system capable of serving up to 2 million users including tactical commands operating in the field.

The Pentagon and DISA also touted DMS as a solution for the messaging needs of the entire federal government. But DISA specified requirements more suited to Cold War needs including security systems able to authenticate the identity of a sender and a built-in hardware encryption system based on costly PC Card security cards brand-named Fortezza by the National Security Agency.

DMS also would require the purchase and fielding of a massive worldwide infrastructure.

DMS another informed source said "through the fault of no one has been overtaken by technical progress and a real change in requirements." The Joint Staff kicked off its DMS re-evaluation based on "real concern that we could not afford to extend it into the tactical world."

The Joint Staff started to hear grumbling from users in the service - who have to meet the sizable DMS fielding and infrastructure bill - concerned that DOD was not only reinventing the wheel but gilding it.

Despite these complaints the Pentagon still needs a highly secure message system to handle critical "go-to-war orders " and the Joint Staff study has attempted to balance these requirements with costs as well as the evolution of commercial e-mail technology and security systems. The Joint Staff one source said launched the study to determine among other things "how valid are the original requirements?" The Joint Staff this source predicted will recommend a DMS architecture that still provides a level of security "but costs far less and can be introduced faster `' than the current DMS architecture.

Keith Attenborough the DMS product manager for Lotus Development Corp. said his company can easily meet the strict Autodin-like security requirements as well as provide more commercial e-mail from the same Lotus platform available on the contract today. Attenborough said he was "aware of ongoing DMS reviews" and believes that the people managing the program the users in the field and the Joint Staff are engaged in a cooperative effort to field an affordable secure solution.

Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based telecommunications analyst said the Joint Staff re-evaluation "is one of the consequences of delay but failure to field DMS led users to seek out commercial solutions."In June DISA said it had scaled back its DMS grand design refocusing its efforts so DMS more closely converges with commercial systems. Lockheed Martin said it had revamped its DMS architecture more along commercial lines that should result in considerable savings for the Pentagon.

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