Gauss lays out IT plans for Spawar

Rear Adm. John Gauss, who last month took over as commander of the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Command (Spawar), said he wants to deliver information to users as just another utility such as power and phone connections.

The programs and projects Gauss plans in the near term will allow Navy users worldwide to ''just put a plug in the wall'' to tap into the vital strategic, tactical and logistics data vital to the Navy's plans to conduct "network-centric warfare."

Gauss laid out his plans last week to FCW in his first interview since taking over Spawar.

Top Navy leaders are reviewing what Gauss called the ''architectural document'' that will serve as the blueprint for that information utility, called the Naval Virtual Intranet. The NVI would develop what Gauss calls the computing and communications ''backplane'' that will deliver information to a wall plug.

Through Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), the Navy plans to serve high concentrations of personnel in areas such as San Diego; Norfolk, Va.; and Hawaii. It will serve as the key interface between the users and the information they need through centrally located servers. Gauss said he has no intention of operating and maintaining servers at Spawar's Old Town Campus in San Diego once the MAN is operational. Instead, Gauss said Spawar users will tap into a ''server farm'' at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Command (NCTC) facility in San Diego.

That facility is co-located with the Defense Information Systems Agency computer megacenter and the entry point into the long-haul Defense Information Systems Network-centric warfare, making it easy to tie Navy users into Defense Department databases and long-haul circuits.

Warren Suss, a Pennsylvania-based analyst who specializes in the federal market, said the central management and storage of information makes sense and could lead to significant costs savings in the large amounts of hardware and personnel needed to support decentralized systems. But, Suss added, this also will require the Navy to ensure that these centralized facilities have a responsive help desk.

Spawar has key responsibility for many of the nuts-and-bolts systems that sit at the core of the Navy's billion-dollar-plus Information for the 21st Century (IT-21) project, which is designed to bring high-speed computing and communications to the fleet. But, he added, Spawar ''cannot do this alone. We have to do this in partnership with NCTC.''

The Navy plans to upgrade its shipboard and onshore systems to IT-21 standards, which include high-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode networks both afloat and ashore, by the end of 2002, which Gauss said amounted to ''a very aggressive schedule."

To meet that schedule within budget, Gauss said that Spawar and top Navy managers have concluded that ''we cannot do a full IT-21 build on every ship." Carriers and amphibious helicopter carriers will have full IT-21 capabilities, but "the smaller ships will not have an ATM [local-area network],'' he said.

Gauss predicted that by the end of fiscal 1998, the Navy will have outfitted about 16 ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets with advanced IT-21 networks and commercial PCs.

Gauss also plans to pursue an aggressive technology refreshment schedule. ''My plan is to field the latest technology and turn it over twice''— a three-year project that dovetails with his planned retirement date of July 2001.

Developing the NVI, deploying IT-21 and turning over technology twice in three years will require both ''speed and discipline'' Gauss said. ''I don't believe they're incompatible."

To ensure that Spawar can meet its goals quickly but with attention to detail, Gauss plans to institute new disciplines and processes within the organization. Areas he plans to focus on include engineering, contracting, financial management, installation and fleet supports. Focusing on the processes within these areas also will help Spawar focus on its mission and will help it ''transcend personalities,'' Gauss said.

Marv Langston, director of the information systems office at the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, has confidence that Gauss can meet and master the challenges he faces. ''I believe that John Gauss brings the beginning of a new and stronger era to Spawar and IT-21," he said.

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