Navy network projects sail toward milestones

The Navy's two most important command, control, communications and computer systems programs are heading toward major milestones later this year and beyond.

The Navy’s most important C4 programs — the Next Generation Enterprise Network and the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services program — are heading toward major milestones later this year and beyond.

Although separate programs with different managers, budgets, bid processes and timelines, they will jointly form nearly all the Navy’s network infrastructure on land and sea for at least the next decade.

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NGEN, the largest and most critical of the two projects, is designed to replace the existing Navy Marine Corps Intranet. Like its predecessor, NGEN will be one of the world’s largest networks, serving more than 700,000 sailors, Marines and civilians. Unlike NMCI, which is operated by a single contractor — Hewlett-Packard — NGEN management will likely be divided among several different organizations, including the Navy. After completion, NGEN will give increased network command and control responsibilities to Navy and Marine users. “The Navy has wanted to take back ownership of the network and has certainly wanted to exercise more direct control of the operation of the network than [it] did in NMCI,” said Pat Tracey, vice president of defense industry development at HP Enterprise Services.

The Navy also hopes that dividing NGEN services and operations among multiple contractors will reduce costs, perhaps by as much as $100 million annually. “What’s important about NGEN is segmentation,” said Capt. Shawn Hendricks, NGEN program manager at the Naval Enterprise Networks Program Office. “Under NMCI, everything was under one blanket — if you wanted what was under that blanket, you had to buy the whole blanket.”

The Navy’s segmented approach to NGEN, in addition to the project’s massive size and scope, has led to the creation of several contractor teams, including an alliance led by HP, which is bidding on individual NGEN aspects, such as hardware, software, network transport services, enterprise services and security operations. Other project bidders include Accenture, Computer Sciences Corp., General Dynamics, Harris, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

“Anybody who's going to go after this opportunity is going to have to have a team,” said Douglas West, an analyst at Deltek Information Services, a government IT consulting firm. Beyond project size and scope issues, bid teams are also necessary to meet a Defense Department mandate to use smaller contractors. “The government is making this push to…small businesses and making sure that small businesses are included,” West said. “It's an essential, almost a required approach, to have a group of teammates when you head into an opportunity like this.”

While NGEN focuses on the Navy’s shoreside network needs, CANES aims to modernize and streamline shipboard networks, with the additional goal of enhancing interoperability throughout the fleet. CANES also seeks to consolidate and reduce the total number of shipboard networks through using cross-domain technologies and a common computing environment. In 2010, the Navy awarded two separate contracts, with a total potential value of $1.7 billion, to Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for CANES design and development. The companies are competing against each other to become the sole prime contractor, a decision that the Navy is expected to make by the end of this year.

Making the transition

As NGEN enters what Hendricks said he hopes will be the final lap to deployment, he feels confident that everything is on track. “We’ve been posting acquisition concepts, and we’re looking to do a draft RFP release in the end of September,” he said. Hendricks said the draft will seek industry comments on a wide range of issues. “We want to give industry a full opportunity to keep us informed as to what’s achievable,” he said.

Other milestones are set to quickly follow. “We are on schedule for releasing a [request for comments] at the end of December,” Hendricks said. “After the release of the RFC, we anticipate it will take us somewhere between nine and 12 months to award a contract or contracts in December 2012,” he added. “[That] gives us about 15 to 17 months to transition prior to the end of the [NMCI] continuity-of-services contract in April 2014.”

West predicted NGEN will likely reach its goals on time. “I don't see any delays; they seem to be moving along,” he said. “From what I've read, they're very stressed, and there's a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time, but it seems like they're able to do it."

As soon as the bidder selection stage ends, the Navy’s biggest problem will be navigating the shift from NMCI to NGEN and a potential new set of service providers. “The riskiest thing we have is transitioning from one provider to another,” Hendricks said. “I want to give it its due…and I’m driving to make sure that that time is sacred.”

Tracey said she feels that Hendricks and his team face a formidable challenge. “Our experience in transitioning things this large is that that will take many, many, many months,” she said.

However, Hendricks is hoping that careful planning, precise scheduling and hard work will all lead to a smooth changeover. “What I want to be remarkable about an NMCI to NGEN [transition] is how unremarkable it is,” he said. “I would like my customers to never know anything happened.”

Despite the likelihood of reduced DOD funding in the years ahead, Hendricks said NGEN will proceed to deployment as planned. “Right now, the program is executable under the budget the president submitted,” he said. “We stay nimble, we stay flexible, and we tell people what we can do.”

Regardless of funding and budget problems, one of NGEN’s primary goals has always been to lower the Navy’s IT costs. Hendricks said cloud services are destined to play a prime role in that mission. He noted that offloading user resources from the desktop to remote servers will create cost, efficiency and security benefits. “That’s where we’re going; it’s a question of how long it takes us to get there,” he said. “We’re tracking that way, and we’re going to incentivize the contracts to get us there as efficiently as we can.”

Tracey said the Navy might turn to public cloud providers to help it keep costs low. “One of the biggest drivers for decision-making in DOD right now is cost,” she said. “The price point that public cloud providers offer are very attractive, and it would probably be irresponsible for the Navy not to at least explore whether for that price point they can achieve an acceptable level of security.”

A hint about the Navy’s future cloud plans might be found in a pair of NGEN requests for information issued in late July: one on public/private data centers and another on software as a service solutions. “Those RFIs have gone out to industry in order to elicit information on how they could possibly make use of those technologies and try and save 25 percent on their current cost of operation,” West said.

CANES moves forward

As NGEN continues toward key milestones, CANES appears to be finally back on course after encountering a rough patch earlier this year. The project achieved an important goal in late July when a critical design review for the two competing systems developed by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman concluded. “The completion of the CDR marks a significant milestone in the competitive EMD phase of the CANES program,” said CANES program manager Capt. Didier LeGoff at the Navy’s Tactical Networks Program Office in San Diego. “The CANES program is currently still on track to meet its acquisition milestones.”

The CANES timeline ran into a funding bottleneck earlier this year when DOD was forced to operate under a continuing resolution in lieu of a fiscal 2011 budget. With that situation resolved, CANES is again free to move forward. “The project is on track today,” said Mike Twyman, vice president of integrated C3I systems at Northrop Grumman. “The program was delayed a couple of months this year due to the continuing resolution, and so that slipped out the CDR and the test events.”

“The [fiscal] 2011 continuing resolution resulted in about a five month delay in the system design development,” LeGoff said, noting that CANES’s next major milestone is downselecting to a single design in 2012. “It is important for the CANES program to achieve its first installation due to the increasing costs of sustaining our existing systems,” LeGoff added.

Like Hendricks, LeGoff is optimistic that CANES will be able to survive any future DOD funding cuts intact. “CANES has strong support from all stakeholders, especially the fleet as it sees a need to modernize our aging network infrastructure and move towards a more agile and affordable network,” he said. However, LeGoff doesn’t rule out the possibility that CANES could experience future funding headaches. “If a fiscal 2012 continuing resolution were to occur for a prolonged period of time, then programmatic impacts are likely,” he said.

If CANES meets all its remaining goals on schedule, the first installation of the winning design will occur in late 2012 on a destroyer class vessel. “In parallel, a larger, full-rate production contract will be openly competed to execute the bulk of the platforms,” LeGoff said.

CANES’ deployment will be a gradual process that takes many years, Tracey said. “You only have so many ships available at any one time,” she observed. “Most of the fleet is operating, so you only have roughly a third of the fleet in availability in any given year — that’s an impediment to rapid change implementation.”

Peering into the future, LeGoff isn’t ruling out the possibility that CANES and NGEN, currently running on parallel tracks, might eventually reach some degree of advanced interoperability, if not outright consolidation. “Both [of] these systems are dependent on each other, and we are constantly working to make them more seamless and find efficiencies,” he said. “We also recognize they have different requirements, since they serve different environments and we balance those demands as we look towards alignment.”