Nov 21 2022

The Navy’s 20-Year-Old Networking Dream Moves Closer to Reality

NGEN-R SMIT transition plans will upgrade services for 650,000 workers.

Overhauling the Navy’s IT structure isn’t a matter of a singular pivot. A ripped-to-the-studs approach became warranted after years of lag, with multiple entities — and billions of dollars — now focused on a midstream overhaul of the aged system.

At a panel discussion earlier this year, Navy CIO Aaron Weis noted that the service branch is making a move toward modernization. "There are multiple tracks to this,” he said.

The Navy awarded the 8.5-year, $7.7 billion Service Management, Integration and Transport (SMIT) portion of the Next Generation Enterprise Network-Recompete (NGEN-R) contract in February 2020.

Bid protests stalled the NGEN-R SMIT transition until February 2021, and the final report on pulling a 20-year-old idea into reality wasn’t issued until February 2022.

The challenges are broad. The Navy’s 650,000 uniformed and civilian professionals rely daily on the IT services of multiple branch networks. Around 28,000 network devices are in play, and 125,000 service desk interactions per month require handling.

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How the Navy Is Evolving Their IT Infrastructure

In addition to managing volume, other critical components of revamping the Navy’s IT infrastructure include cybersecurity, continuity and creating a more reactive infrastructure.

NGEN contains three segments: the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), the primary network for both the Navy and the Marine Corps; the Marine Corps Enterprise Network, which focuses on warfighting needs; and OCONUS Navy Enterprise Network (ONE-Net) for locations outside the continental U.S.

The focus is on the NMCI, which Weis said is about 15 years behind industry standards. “Our networks are our Achilles’ heel,” he told a group of IT professionals at the Navy’s annual West Coast IT conference in 2020.

It took years to reach the point where work on revamping the IT structure could begin. A 2006 Navy memo mentions NGEN projections into the next decade, specifically noting NCMI integration. The NGEN-R request for proposals didn’t come until 2018.

A new operational task, the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) will attempt to synchronize technologies across branches through a shared network across the Defense Department. “A threat could be sensed by an Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle, but the best weapon against it could be a Navy missile fired from offshore,” according to a Department of Defense news article.

The Navy is not alone in addressing its wayward IT. In October, the Technology Modernization Fund board selected the Army’s Critical Infrastructure Cyber Protection Project for funding in fiscal year 2023. The project focuses on the modernization and upkeep of the Army’s Organic Industrial Base operational technology systems.

Charday Penn/Getty Images

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