Navy IT leaders skeptical of DMS

SAN DIEGO — The Defense Message System (DMS) has received high-level endorsement, but some Navy leaders think e-mail and online chats better suit the service's needs.

Rear Adm. Kenneth Slaght, commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), credits Adm. Archie Clemins with being the first advocate of using chat and e-mail. "He said if you put them in the hands of the sailors and give sailors the capability to use simple tools, they have the ability to network and solve problems that nobody thought were solvable or they didn't even know existed," Slaght said.

"Clemins said that commanders were not paying attention to [DMS] record message traffic because number one, it was late, and number two, it was late," Slaght said. "E-mail and chat really allowed them to do their mission."

DMS is a multibillion-dollar effort to secure DOD communications worldwide and is expected, through a series of software releases, to reach full operational capability by fiscal 2008.

In an interview during a symposium here this week, Slaght said that while DMS still has its place in certain aspects of messaging, the services should look more at machine-to-machine communications and take humans out of the loop. Although putting ordnance on a target still requires a human element, he said, DMS should be taken out of the equation for back-end operations such as logistics.

"I am convinced we need to revisit the issue [of using DMS] and see if there's a more efficient way to get at that information [that currently is transported through DMS]," Slaght said. "After the [Iraqi] war, or even because of it, we're not going to see a spike in funding — and the facts of life don't change. We have to determine how we're going to evolve and provide transformation, even though we don't transform the budget."

Scott Randall, deputy commander of SPAWAR and Slaght's subordinate, agreed and said the command may again seek to "disinvest" itself from DMS. "Last year, [SPAWAR] submitted DMS as something we could probably disinvest ourselves from, and it didn't fly," Randall said. "The fleet was not ready to take that huge step yet. But as we move toward being a more e-mail and chat-centric fleet, we're probably going to submit DMS as something we can disinvest ourselves from again this year."

Slaght said DMS "will go away if we do [networking] right," and once that starts to become a reality, experts will have to revisit DOD's investment in DMS.

Dan Caterinicchia contributed to this report

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