Will Industry Ever See a Defense Unified Capabilities RFP?

Posted by Alexander Rossino on March 29, 2016

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To say that industry is frustrated with the Department of Defense’s progress implementing unified capabilities (UC) would be an understatement. Since the announcement three or so years ago that the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Army would be jointly pursuing UC as part of the transition to the Joint Information Environment, the acquisition has gone nowhere. Successive rounds of market research have been conducted and the release date for the request for proposals has been repeatedly pushed back. The latest word on the street is that the RFP will appear sometime in fiscal 2016. We’ll see about that.

What’s holding up the DoD’s UC procurement? Circumstantial evidence points to two factors. The first of these is network modernization. The chart below shows planned investment in network engineering specifically related to UC from the DoD’s budget request for fiscal year 2017. The qualifiers “specifically related to UC” is added because the request totals aggregated here all mention enabling UC as a primary goal.

What pops immediately in this data is the fact that Army is the only one of the military departments whose request continues to rise in FY 2017 and 2018. Air Force’s request falls each of those years, while the Navy’s remains flat. DISA’s requested funding also rises, but the amounts requested are dwarfed by the Army’s.

What this data suggests is that the Army is not just slightly behind its sister services in modernizing and consolidating its networks. It is significantly behind. This makes sense considering that Navy started its consolidation efforts under the much-maligned Navy-Marine Corps Intranet program in the early 2000s. The Air Force has a similar lead over the Army, having initiated its integration into the AFNET years ago.

The modernization and consolidation of networks onto an Internet Protocol footing are central to the implementation of UC and I suspect that as the installation of multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) gear continued as part of the JIE, Army officials began to realize just how far behind their networks were compared to those of the Air Force and Navy. It was this realization that probably brought the UC procurement to a screeching halt. Put simply, no unified infrastructure, no UC.

There is a second factor to consider. It is equally speculative due to a lack of publicly available information, but it’s worth thinking about. This factor is the re-evaluation of UC strategy by the Office of the CIO/G-6 and the Army Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems. Given the Army’s position on DoD’s “six” as far as network modernization is concerned, the G-6 and PEO EIS may have elected to follow Air Force’s and Navy’s lead before independently procuring a UC solution.

When Navy awarded the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) follow-on contract after NMCI it included implementing UC as a requirement in the statement of work. Which solution are we talking about? A little digging uncovered this tidbit – the incumbent’s preferred UC solution is Microsoft Lync. Why is this important? Simple, because of the recent announcement by the DoD that it will be standardizing its operating systems on Windows 10. The final piece of the puzzle is the Collaboration Pathfinder contract that Air Force awarded in June 2015. The solution being piloted under that contract is Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365, including, you guessed it, the Lync UC capability.

If this characterization of events is correct, the Army seems to have decided in 2015 to defer its procurement of UC because a) its network modernization effort is far more extensive than was anticipated and b) the Navy and Air Force had already pointed a way forward – toward the enterprise use of Microsoft Lync as the DoD’s UC solution. The only question now is how the Army will procure UC when it is ready. Will it issue a separate UC RFP, will it use the Microsoft Joint Enterprise License Agreement DISA awarded to Microsoft in August 2013, will it use a contract vehicle like Information Technology Enterprise Solutions – 3 Services, or will it cancel the procurement altogether and announce simply that it has fulfilled the requirement via other means?

My money is on the final option because of a line item in the Army’s FY 2017 budget request. Army has slated $83M in the FY 2017 request to fund the implementation of UC under Operations and Maintenance. If the Army intended to compete a contract for UC starting late in FY 2016, it probably would have categorized the funding in its Procurement budget. That it didn’t suggests another approach is being taken and it doesn’t require the competition of a separate UC contract, especially since the solution being implemented is probably MS Lync.

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