Navy seeks to bypass mandated network

The Navy is building a case for setting up its own network to help support its multibillion-dollar agencywide intranet rather than relying wholly on the Defense Department's mandated network, a Navy official said last month.

The Defense Information Systems Network (DISN), maintained by the Defense Information Systems Agency, is DOD's mandated network for voice, data and video.

But the Navy has decided it cannot rely on DISN alone to support the service needed to run the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (N/MCI), a $2 billion-plus procurement that will provide desktop and network management and communications services to more than 450,000 personnel worldwide.

As the N/MCI procurement progresses, the Navy is applying to DISA for a waiver that would enable the winning vendor to supply a network as a backup to DISN, said Joseph Cipriano, the Navy's program executive officer for information technology.

Several defense programs, including the Air Force's Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) wide-area network, have tried to bypass the mandate.

A DOD spokeswoman said the department is aware of the Navy's efforts but is not prepared to comment on them. "This matter is being worked on and is not to the point of any answer, blessing or other reaction," she said.

The Navy laid the groundwork for this decision when it released the planning document for the Information Technology Architecture, a servicewide IT strategy. That document included plans to use DISN when DISA "can provide the same or equal service at the same or less cost." But, according to the plan, the Navy plans to bypass DISN "when DISA is not competitive with alternative service providers."

Cipriano's office is asking vendors to submit two proposals to the request for information that has been issued. One should be written as if the vendor were using only DISN, and the second should be written as if the vendor were using DISN and another network, he said.

"We will comply with [DOD] policy, except for this one waiver we are applying for," Cipriano said. Companies that may bid on the contract include Litton/PRC Inc., Computer Sciences Corp. and TRW Inc., all of which have extensive experience in the government and commercial arenas that will help in building a business case. But even getting help from vendors may not add much to the Navy's effort, said a member of the Air Force's DCGS team. "This waiver is not necessarily easy to get," she said.

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