Now hear this: We're listening
- By Paul Constance
- Aug 08, 1995
The Pentagon is embarking on a radically new approach to
managing and operating its global information transport needs, judging from the
solicitations for the Defense Information Systems Network.
For as long as computers have been around, DOD has bought and operated its own
communications switches and network multiplexers, and in some cases, even the connecting
copper and fiber-optic lines. Industry's role has been limited largely to providing dumb
pipes that link DOD's far-flung installations.
That approach has long been decried by telecommunications companies and systems
integrators, who claim that they would manage switching operations more efficiently, and
at less cost, than DOD. Last March, when the Defense Information Systems Agency released
an ambiguous DISN acquisition strategy that seemed to endorse the status quo, critics
But with the release last month of the first requests for proposals for DISN, the
Pentagon appears to have heeded these complaints. DISA issued three draft RFPs for various
services and pieces of the DISN architecture and a final RFP for integration support work
[GCN, July 17, Page 1].
"The government will not own the switches or BWMs [bandwidth managers, or
multiplexers] used to provide service under this contract," according to the
statement of work for the draft DISN Switch/Bandwidth Manager Services-Continental United
States (DS/BMSC) RFP.
Instead, DOD will pay contractors for switching and multiplexer services at specified
locations. The focus on services is consistent across the acquisition plan for the initial
stage of the network project, which also will include contracts for DISN Transmission
Services-CONUS (DTSC), DISN Videoteleconferencing Services-Global (DVSG), and DISN
Integration and Support Services-Global (DSSG).
Proposals for the integration contract, so far the only portion for which DISA has
issued a final RFP, are due in September. DISA officials said they expect to issue the
final RFPs for the other three contracts on August 28.
To win a spot on the DISN team, vendors will have to meet three requirements that
resemble DOD's original rationale for operating its own communications infrastructure.
Rear Adm. J.A. Gauss, DISA's deputy director for engineering and interoperability,
spelled out these three tenets: ""Positive control, information warfare
protection and bandwidth on demand.''
Most of the responsibility for meeting those requirements will fall on the vendor that
wins the DISN Switch/Bandwidth Manager Services contract.
That contractor will be charged with giving DOD control of the network by providing
DISA officials with ""real-time information on a 24-hour, 365-day-a- year
basis'' about traffic volumes and behavior, the draft RFP noted. DISA also requires the
ability to reconfigure the network instantly and reallocate bandwidth to specific users,
depending on the department's military needs.
The DS/BMSC contractor will have to ensure that DISN can survive ""denial of
service'' attacks, including enemy sabotage, ""with no downtime,'' the draft
solicitation said. The RFP pointed out that the vendor must guarantee that it can expand
the network's capacity rapidly during emergencies to accommodate surges in DOD traffic,
even if an attack has resulted in the ""complete destruction of the contractor's
DISN CONUS network management capability.''
As apocalyptic as this scenario might sound, large telecommunications companies
routinely contemplate such an event, according to DISA officials.
""These requirements are well within what these companies are already
prepared to handle,'' said Dana Crabill, DISN security manager. ""We won't be
asking them for anything they don't already use.''
Security requirements for DISN are spelled out in a DISN Security Policy created by the
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Crabill said.
The requirements assume that information sent over DISN will be encrypted by users
before it ever gets on the network, so that DISN contractors will be responsible only for
ensuring transmissions aren't denied or corrupted. The DS/BMSC contractor also will
execute the bulk of DISN's security requirements, according to the draft RFP.
Perhaps the most significant task assigned to the bandwidth management contractor,
however, is to design what the RFP calls a Comprehensive Implementation Plan. The plan
must include the strategy of ""interconnecting with existing [DOD] circuits and
services to ensure a transparent transition with minimum effects on service quality and
In the short term, this will require links between the emerging DISN and DOD's myriad
legacy networks until all users have been cut over. The DS/BMSC contractor will have to
develop migration, synchronization and cutover plans for phasing out the old networks.
The DISN transmission services contractors will have to design separate implementation
plans that jibe with the DS/BMSC contractor's plan, according to the DTSC RFP.
DISA officials said the department will consider awarding nine separate contracts for
transmission services: one for the high-capacity DISN backbone, and one each for the eight
U.S. service access regions. But DISA also might choose to award a single contract for all
transmission services, depending on which solution offers the lowest total cost, the draft
As with the bandwidth manager contractor, transmission service contractors must propose
contingency plans to guarantee uninterrupted service.
Acknowledging that immense technical, logistical and management hurdles are likely to
pop up on the road to implementing DISN, DISA has made the DISN Support Services-Global
contract, which it hopes to award this fall, a vehicle for beefing up its project
Between now and the first DISN contract awards in late 1996, this team will help DISA
fine-tune its functional requirements, perfect its acquisition strategy and prepare for
milestones in DOD's Major Automated Information Systems Acquisition Review process.
Tasks under the DSSG contract will be legion, from maintaining legacy networks and
training military personnel on DISN to handling logistics support and tracking costs.
Instead of providing cost and pricing data, as bidders for the other DISN contracts
must, DSSG bidders will have to propose ""fully loaded labor rates'' for
proposed personnel requirements. This led some industry representatives to wonder whether
DISA's evaluation of DSSG proposals would turn into a low- cost shoot-out that would
sacrifice management quality for attractive hourly rates.