All hands and computers on deck

The Navy wants to issue every sailor a computer as part of a plan to prepare

for network-centric warfare.

For the Navy, computers are as essential to new sailors as their uniforms

and standard-issue duffel bags and supplies.

The Navy intends to ask Congress to include in its fiscal 2002 budget

$20 million for its Cyber Seabag initiative, which would increase every sailor's

clothing allowance — now used to buy uniforms and supplies — to include

money to buy a computer.

"The intent of the [initiative] is to say, "In tomorrow's Navy, your understanding

of how to use a computer is as important as your uniform,' " said Ron Turner,

the Navy's deputy chief information officer.

The Navy has yet to determine if it will issue sailors laptops, handhelds

or something similar. It plans to issue about 7,000 high-end wireless devices

to enlisted personnel per month, Turner said. The funding request would

require a change to the clothing allowance, he said.

The Navy plans to lease the units, which would allow sailors to trade

them in for new ones every two years. The Navy would compete the contract

with a vendor, much like Ford Motor Co. and Delta Air Lines did when they

contracted with PeoplePC Inc. to provide employees with PCs and Internet

service. Vendors or organizations such as Best Buy or CompUSA would provide

maintenance.

Working with the Education Department and vendors, the Navy plans to

distribute the used computers to schools nationwide. The vendor would receive

a tax write-off and Education would use the devices to connect school districts

to the Internet.

The Navy intends for sailors to use the computers primarily for personal

use. The Cyber Seabag initiative is an acknowledgment that future recruits

have grown up using computers and the Internet and that a computer can be

a valuable recruiting tool.

"They know how to do business on the Internet, talk to their friends

and family," Turner said. "I can't solicit those people to join the military

and then cut them off from that. I have to give them the capability they

enjoyed when they were kids."

In addition, the Cyber Seabag effort will help prepare sailors for

the Navy's strategy to fight future wars using computers, Turner said. The

Navy is preparing for what it calls network-centric warfare, in which tactical

intelligence and logistics information sent over computer networks becomes

as much a weapon for the warfighter as light arms or heavy armor.

To prepare for network-centric warfare, the Navy has begun to connect

its ships and bases using commercial desktop systems under a $1 billion-plus

initiative called Information Technology for the 21st Century. The Navy also

plans to award a contract in June for the estimated $16 billion Navy/Marine

Corps Intranet, which would connect 700,000 Navy and Marine Corps users

at bases in the continental United States and Hawaii. The intranet would

connect ships at sea, Navy bases and units using IT-21.

"If we look at the way the Department of the Navy is structured for

overall warfare in the future, we're very network-centric," Turner said.

"So the better equipped [the sailors] are at using the machines and understanding

the technology, the more successful we will be in accomplishing that shift

to a network-centric environment."

Sailors still may be able to use the computers in their work in certain

circumstances and as part of the Navy intranet program, Turner said. Sailors

would receive a smart card with a security token on it to authenticate them

as users.

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