DISA launches $4B 'hemispheric' telecom net buy

The Defense Information Systems Agency this month surprised potential bidders for a wideband telecommunications network that would span the Pacific, South America and the Caribbean when it doubled the estimated value of the network from $2 billion to $4 billion.

In releasing the request for proposals for the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) Transmission Services-Pacific (DTS-P), DISA said the increase represented the need to provide for "crises and contingency operations" over the 10-year life of the contract. DISA said it could allocate about $2 billion for those operations.

Army Col. Mike Harvey, commander of DISA-Pacific, said it was "essential to build in contingency capacity for rapid expansion of capability" during crises. "We can be much more responsive by having this [capacity] on call," he said. By incorporating surge capacity into DTS-P, "we can structure it so it's cheaper than [buying circuits] in the midst of a crisis.''

Industry sources and analysts called planning for contingency operations a prudent step because U.S. forces in the Pacific will need extra capacity to handle expanded humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis-intervention missions. Warren Suss, a telecommunications analyst in Jenkintown, Pa., said the $2 billion for contingencies "makes sense [because] in the past users have complained about the costs for extra capacity for contingencies."

DTS-P will serve Defense Department and other federal users scattered across 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans and in South America and the Caribbean. DTS-P must dovetail with the planned worldwide DISN and provide state-of-the-art service. Bids for DTS-P are due Dec. 10, and DISA plans to award the contract in early 1999.

DTS-P dwarfs all but a few federal telecommunications procurements in scale and scope. "It wouldn't be the biggest, but it's probably in the top 5 percent," said Bob Woods, president and chief operating officer of Federal Sources Inc. "The biggest question with these things is whether they're empty buckets."

Greg Wilska, a market research analyst with Federal Sources, said it is very likely that a significant chunk of the contract, which he described as "hemispheric," will involve upgrading.

Tech Specs

DISA said it wants the winning DTS-P contractor to provide a network capable of supporting "multimedia services...delivered from the lowest tactical level to the highest strategic level as a result of secure connectivity across the entire warfare spectrum.''

DTS-P must handle everything from sub T-1 circuits (64 kilobits/sec) to 2,488 megabits/sec OC-48 service. Although DISA said the transmission services it plans to acquire will consist primarily of time division multiplex circuits, the agency plans to bundle these into its own private Asynchronous Transfer Mode network— a move that Suss said poses technical and supply challenges.

While long-haul trans-Pacific service to points such as bases in Japan and South Korea can be handled on a number of new fiber-optic cables, service to more remote areas, such as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, will have to be done over satellite circuits. "ATM over satellite is not quite commercial at this point.... Not many satellite carriers have done it," a telecom source said.

An executive of a telecommunications carrier that may bid on the contract said it will be hard to meet DISA's technical requirements because they ignore the built-in lag-time for service from satellites orbiting 24,000 miles in space.

- Daniel Verton contributed to this article.

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