$10B NGEN marks Navy’s pivot toward future

The release of the Navy's final request for proposals for its $10 billion Next Generation Enterprise Network underscores the complexity of the program – but represents the Navy’s next step in its information operations.

Calling it a “significant milestone," Capt. Shawn Hendricks,  Naval Enterprise Networks program manager, said the RFP "reflects critical insight from industry as we compete the world’s largest enterprise network.”

The contract will replace the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, which serves more than 800,000 users at more than 2,500 locations and is currently operated under a continuity-of-services contract with Hewlett-Packard Co., which bought Electronic Data Systems, who won in 2000.

NMCI got off to a well-publicized, rocky start. It was originally conceived to reduce the burden of end-to-end IT operations and maintenance on the Navy and Marine Corps while improving technology efficiency; it was perhaps the largest IT outsourcing contract ever awarded. But the challenges and costs in consolidating systems and implementing the program were much more than either side had anticipated. Sources say EDS nearly went bankrupt as a result.

With NGEN, the Navy plans to take back control of the network. According to the RFP, under NGEN the Navy’s network will be government-owned and contractor operated, and aside from hardware like desktop computers, the network infrastructure will be considered government property. The RFP also notes delineation between Navy and Marine Corps domains, with the Marine Corps’ networks considered government-owned and government-run.

There are two announced teams expected to compete for the contract: HP, joined by AT&T, Northrup Grumman, IBM and most recently Lockheed Martin; and a team led buy Harris and Computer Sciences Corp., joined by General Dynamics, Cisco and Verizon. Harris leads the team on the transport services portion of the program and CSC leads the team on the enterprise services portion.

Chief among NGEN’s goals is to continue maintaining and delivering NMCI while improving information assurance and command and control. It’s also geared to better take advantage of Defense Department enterprise services. And at the heart of NGEN is the seamless transition of the network and improved security – both critical to day-to-day operations, Hendricks has stressed.

The RFP, like the draft RFPs that came before it, also clearly define services.

“The Navy Network Operations (NetOps) operating model employs a centrally managed and decentralized execution framework where global, regional, and local responsibilities are delineated. Network [command and control] is accomplished through a hierarchal, tiered organizational framework,” according to the RFP.

NGEN comprises 35 services split into two main segments, enterprise services and transport services – and the Navy could award separate contracts for each, or one contract that encompasses all.

“This is a full and open competition. I don’t care who provides the services; I just want the best value for government, services not to be compromised and the transition assured. I cannot afford even a one minute loss of productivity,” Hendricks said last August.

The transition to the new-era Navy enterprise network must incorporate current technology -- there are provisions for thin-client workstations, virtualization and cloud services -- and for maintenance to stay ahead of the curve, with orders for periodic tech refresh. There are also new-era security requirements, as the Navy takes on threats that weren’t even conceived of when NMCI launched more than a decade ago. It’s a patently different kind of security challenge than what much of the rest of DOD typically faces, and it’s evident by the dozens of security references and stipulations in the RFP.

“What’s becoming apparent is that security over classified networks is gobs more simple than security over the world’s largest network that’s connected on the Internet,” Hendricks said at a May 3 event in northern Virginia.

With the solicitation out, the companies planning to vie for the contract are hitting the ground running, already having devoted months to the project using the draft RFPs that have been released over the past year. Proposals are due July 18.