Navy mulls lease for bases, ships

NORFOLK, Va.— The Navy's Atlantic Fleet (LANTFLT) recently completed the installation of a high-powered Microsoft Corp. Windows NT network for its headquarters here through a leasing deal that the command believes can serve as a model for other federal agencies.

The network allows the LANTFLT staff to control the 180-plus ships under its command, which are deployed from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, by providing users with high-tech tools to manage and control information that is central to the Navy's concept of "network-centric warfare," in which tactical intelligence and logistics information becomes as much a weapon for the warfighter as light arms or heavy armor.

Leasing PCs and servers is such a new concept to the government that the 850-person secret network that LANTFLT installed here stands as "the largest lease of its kind in the Department of Defense," said Dorothy Hennigan, director of command, control, communications and computer (C4) resources for the command. "This is a totally leased [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network], from switch to desktop.''

Sam Katz, LANTFLT's director of information technology, said the new computers installed on the headquarters' network exceed the standards set out for the Navy's ambitious Information Technology for the 21st Century program, a more than $1 billion project to tie together bases and ships. Contractor International Data Products Corp. provided LANTFLT with 850 233 MHz Pentium II desktop PCs, all running Windows NT, and 24 servers, each with quad Pentium Pro CPUs.

The suite currently is considered high-powered, but with the pace of PC technology advancement, the technology quickly will be surpassed. By leasing the equipment, LANTFLT will not have to worry about falling behind, Hennigan said.

"What really makes [the headquarters lease] interesting is the technology refreshment clause," Hennigan said. "We will be able to refresh the PCs every 18 months, and the contract lets us define the state-of-the-art [technology] 90 days before the equipment is to be refreshed."

Monica Shephard, director of C4 for LANTFLT, said the leasing deal can serve as "a great success story on how a corporation does something different."

Shephard said based on the positive experience with the lease, which was signed in February, the command now plans to look at how to apply it at other LANTFLT bases and potentially on ships.

Installation of the new LANTFLT equipment matched the contract in innovation, according to Katz and Hennigan. The N6 staff originally planned to install the new PCs in 42 days but realized the schedule would leave key elements of the staff without the ability to communicate for a number of days. So Katz developed a process and schedule that allowed the command and its contractors to install the computers in more than 20 buildings in just five days.

IDP agreed to pre-load commercial and Navy software on the computers, which was key to the fast turnaround, Katz said. IDP pre-loaded the software on removable hard disk drives, which were passed out to users during a three-hour training session.

At the same time, installation teams were hooking up those users' new PCs to the network. When users returned to their offices and installed the hard drive, the system was ready for use. "It's getting harder and harder to install software, and it takes longer and longer to do it," said IDP president George Fuster. "This was an incredible time savings for the government."

LANTFLT coordinated the fast-paced installation by assigning color-coded jerseys to the various components of its installations teams— much like the jerseys worn by crew members on the flight deck of aircraft carriers— so that users could tell at a glance the job each team member was assigned. Applications software specialists, for example, wore red shirts. If a user encountered a problem with an application, the user could easily find the right person to ask for help.

While LANTFLT hailed its headquarters lease as a success, Shephard said that before the command tries it on other bases or ships, "we still really need to test this and wring it out.'' Shephard added that if the Navy does plan to tap leasing for other installations, it also needs to come up with a financing model because leasing draws from operations and maintenance funds while computer purchases come from procurement accounts.

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