Defense plans buying push to spread DISN worldwide

The Defense Information Systems Network will span the Pacific through a transmission
contract the Defense Department wants to award this summer, possibly followed by a similar
contract for European services later in the year.


DOD pegs the worth of the two contracts at roughly $10 billion. They are just two of
more than a handful of communications buys the department has in the DISN pipeline.


Meanwhile, the Defense Information Systems Agency is continuing to build out the
continental U.S. portions of DISN, adding asynchronous transfer mode service and fixing
shortcomings in contracts awarded in 1997 to AT&T Corp. and MCI Communications Corp.,
now MCI WorldCom Inc.


Peter G. Paulson, chief of DISA’s Networks Division, talked about the growth of
DISN at Federal Telecommunications Conference, sponsored last month by Telestrategies Inc.
of McLean, Va.


The scheme for a single, mandatory long-haul DOD network dates back to 1994, after the
military services had interoperability problems in Grenada, Panama and Operation Desert
Storm.


Enforcing mandatory use of DISN services throughout the department has been difficult,
Paulson said. The General Accounting Office has reported that Defense organizations
continue to run their own networks for many programs.


The proposals deadline for the DISN Transmission Services-Pacific contract, originally
set for December, slipped to this month. If the department can award a contract by early
summer, transmission could begin as early as December, Paulson said.


DTS-P will be a fixed-price, single-award contract with a $4 billion ceiling over its
10-year life. DISA will buy only transmission services; the government will own and
operate the switching centers.


Although Defense originally planned to immediately follow up DTS-P with a similar buy
for Europe, the department may change course, Paulson said. In Europe, DISA now buys
network services on the spot market. Prices have been dropping, and DISA officials have
not decided whether to solicit bids for transmission services there or whether to ride out
the market.


Although the DISN contract for the domestic DOD offices, DISN-CONUS, only opened for
business last August, it already needs some upgrades, Paulson said. AT&T provides the
Synchronous Optical Network backbone, and MCI WorldCom manages the bandwidth demands at 35
sites linked by 155-Mbps Sonet OC-3 connections.


At the time the contracts were awarded, ATM was too risky a technology, Paulson said,
but it has now matured enough to be overlaid on the Sonet backbone. ATM switches from Fore
Systems Inc. of Pittsburgh are going in as technology insertions under MCI WorldCom’s
bandwidth management contract.


Links for about 20 of the bandwidth management sites will get upgrades to OC-12 this
year, he said. The average monthly cost per Kbps at the 622-Mbps OC-12 rate is about 16
cents, compared with 25 cents at the OC-3 rate.


Through the CONUS Extension contract, DISN will bring faster connectivity to DOD sites
remote from the 600 sites now served, Paulson said. The original contract did not allow
for short hops of less than 15 miles or for connections with less than T1 bandwidth. The
multiple-award extension contract, expected this spring and worth an estimated $600
million over 10 years, will extend DISN services at any bandwidth to anywhere in the
continental United States, he said.


Extending DISN to troops in the field will be far harder, Paulson said. Bandwidth on
the Defense Satellite Communications System, which now supports DISN’s strategic and
tactical entry points, falls far short of the 300 Mbps to 400 Mbps needed for deployed
troops, he said.


DISA has proposed the Teleport program, through which it would buy bandwidth from
commercial satellite networks in the UHF, Extremely High Frequency, Ka-band, Ku-band and
C-band spectrums, as well as the Defense Satellite Communications System’s X band.


Certain controls would be missing on commercial satellites that DISA has on military
satellites, however, such as anti-jamming ability, Paulson said. The most sensitive
traffic probably would have to remain on DSCS or the department’s MilStar network, he
said.


The Teleport initiative, so far unfunded, is gaining support at the Pentagon, and
Paulson said he expects approval.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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