Would outsourcing weaken DISN?

Outsourcing the Defense Department's long-haul network for voice, video and data communications would not give the armed services the same tactical capabilities it has now, according to one of its managers.

One of the key qualities of the long-haul Defense Information Systems Network is its surge capabilities, which enable the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give certain users network priority, said David Mihelcic, chief executive engineer for network services at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which manages DISN.

"Our surge capabilities are centrally controlled," and they can preempt DISN communications, Mihelcic said. He called the Joint Staff's ability to allocate DISN bandwidth "very important" for military and satellite communications outside the United States.

Mihelcic, a former Navy official, said he supports the $6.9 billion Navy Marine Corps Intranet outsourcing procurement, which uses DISN but enables vendor Electronic Data Systems Corp. to provision DISN circuits and add them to DISN. Anyone who thinks that DOD could someday outsource DISN, however, needs to understand its advantages, he said.

Before officials at DISA, the Navy Department and the Office of the Secretary of Defense signed an August 2000 agreement, Navy officials had begun to make a case that they should be able to outsource DISN through NMCI. Daniel Porter, the Navy Department CIO, for example, called DISN a "government monopoly" last year.

The Business Executives for National Security-sponsored Tail-to-Tooth Commission in February recommended that DOD outsource its long-haul communications, except for its most sensitive transmissions.

For their IP networks, DISA officials are looking at implementing quality of service, a Gigabit Ethernet capability that enables systems administrators to give certain users bandwidth priority, Mihelcic said. "QOS is offered by many vendors, but it's not interoperable or scalable," he said.

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