Navy develops fast-track blueprint for IT-21 rollout

MONTEREY Calif. - The Navy has adopted a fast-paced plan to turn its ambitious Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21) vision into reality with rapid insertion of an advanced network architecture into both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets according to Adm. Archie Clemins commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet.

Clemins speaking here at the Military Communications (Milcom) conference detailed for the first time an IT-21 investment plan designed to equip 23 ships over the next two years with wide-band satellite terminals and high-speed local-area networks. Total IT-21 investment in the Pacific Fleet alone will run to $530 million he said.

The Navy also has concurrent plans to upgrade the shore-based infrastructure supporting both fleets. Clemins said the Navy has arrived "at the point where we have no choice but to invest in information technology." Combined costs for the Atlantic and Pacific fleets are estimated at more than $1 billion. IT-21 which was first announced this year is designed to replace stovepiped tactical systems on ships and incompatible administrative systems on shore with commercial hardware and software so that the Navy will have a seamless computing environment between tactical and support systems.

The IT-21 investment eventually will lead to the establishment of a naval global intranet powered by Asynchronous Transfer Mode switches which Clemins said will support some 150 000 operational Navy users and another 100 000 users in nontactical support commands all equipped with high-powered commercial PCs capable of exchanging voice video and wide-band data over the intranet. When completed IT-21 will provide nearly 65 000 "intranet seats" in the Pacific alone Clemins said with about one-third afloat and the remainder ashore.

He said the Navy needs the IT-21 infrastructure to support what the service calls "network-centric warfare " tying together "widely dispersed but robustly networked sensors command centers and forces " which will provide the capability to "mass fires not forces." Clemins said about 80 percent of the IT-21 spending will go to upgrading the Navy's IT backbone including shipboard and shore ATM LANs terrestrial fiber and wideband satellite connectivity to deployed ships. He added "Wideband [radio frequency] and shipboard wideband local-area networks are the crucial enablers of network-centric warfare."

Because most ships in the fleet currently lack wideband satellite connectivity the Navy has developed a phased approach to the shipboard IT-21 installations dovetailed to the launch of the Navy UHF Follow-On (UFO) satellites. These satellites feature a Global Broadcast Service (GBS) package consisting of four Ka-band (30/20 GHz) transponders each with 30 megabits/sec throughput to dishes as small as 22 inches in diameter.

Hughes Space and Communications the UFO contractor plans to launch one satellite in 1998 that will provide coverage of the Pacific and two in 1999 one each over the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Together these three satellites will provide worldwide coverage.

Clemins said the Navy plans to use the GBS satellites to send wideband data to ships. The Navy also will use "asymmetric networking " which will use 64 kilobits/sec commercial satellite service to transmit data from the ships. This scheme will meet the Navy's requirements Clemins said because "ships generally receive more data than they transmit."

The Navy will concentrate IT-21 investment dollars on shipboard LANs on command ships key operational carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets providing each of the fleets with a "critical mass" of networked platforms. Installations will start with Pacific Fleet ships and then shift to the Atlantic allowing synchronization with the launch of the UFO satellites. (See chart on Page 3 for the sequence of shipboard installations.)

Centralized network management ashore to manage all these assets has emerged as another key aspect of IT-21 Clemins said with the potential to reduce costs and overhead as well as "enable common enterprise application support." Centralized network management raises security concerns Clemins said "and to date we have not found a centralized network management architecture that maintains network capacity and provides the required security. This is an area [where] we need industry help."

`Aggressive But Doable'

Clemins' two-year time frame for the initial IT-21 capability is "aggressive but doable " according to Peter Buck Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s umbrella program manager for the Navy. EDS has certified and supplied IT-21 networking components through its PC LAN+ contract.

Development of such a broad investment plan after a short 10-month assessment period shows that "Clemins views this as serious business. He wants everyone to get off the dime. Based on work we have been doing for the Navy we have detected a real sense of urgency " Buck said.

That urgency according to industry and service officials attending the Milcom conference has not hit the Air Force GBS Program Office which has yet to issue a final proposal for terminals including those needed to support Clemins' fast-track shipboard installation schedule.

One industry source speculated that the Navy will tap the Voice Video and Data (Vivid) contracts held by GTE Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc. for terminal development and installation.

EDS is partnered with GTE on Vivid and Buck said the contract has enough latitude to allow the Navy to tap Vivid for satellite terminals.

John Riddle director of Cabletron Systems Federal Systems Division called the IT-21 investment strategy "visionary" but also "challenging due to the very compressed time frame. It's going to require industry putting people on ships."

Richard Bibb vice president for operations at Fore Federal Systems which manufactures ATM switches said that translating the IT-21 vision into an investment plan represents an "unprecedented progression in the deployment of this type of technology."

Clemins said in his Milcom speech that he knows the Navy still has a way to go to translate the IT-21 vision into reality but "the future is bright. We are on the verge of an information revolution."

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