Defense Department, Policy, tech

Congress hammers NECC for lack of coordination

I’m working on a story on the Net Enabled Command Capability program at DISA, the SOA-based successor to the Global Command and Control System family of systems (GCCS FoS). The Senate Armed Services Committee has essentially ordererd NECC’s termination because, as the Senate sees it, there’s been a lack of coordination between the services on exactly how to take NECC forward, and there are a number of problems with NECC’s program management that have fallen through the cracks during the changeover in administrations.

Instead, the Senate wants the money for the program directed into modernization of the existing GCCS FoS. GCCS, which became the program of record for DOD command and control in 1996, is born of the systems architecture of that time: client-server, strictly vertical point-to-point integration, and a raft of custom integration points for other systems that doesn’t allow for easy sharing of new capabilities.

NECC was supposed to fix that, first at the joint level, by creating a service-oriented backbone for all the GCCS component systems, and allowing integration of things like the Distributed Common Ground System (DOD’s intelligence, surveillance and recon data sharing platform). But last year, NECC failed to get a green light to go into full development mode because of concerns that its core technology wasn’t mature enough yet, and that DISA’s schedule for its rollout was overly optimistic. As a result, Congress cut over $100 million from the development program in the FY2009 budget.

Now, the House Armed Services Committee wants to hold back most of the money for 2010 until DOD demonstrates they have a plan to make NECC work, while the Senate committee just wants to outright terminate NECC and roll it into the various services’ GCCS modernization efforts. The bottom line is that no one has really clearly articulated what NECC will do that’s different enough from what the services are doing to modernize their own GCCS systems (by adding web accessibility, integrating DCGS, etc.).

And that’s not going to happen soon. DOD doesn’t have a permanent CIO and Assistant Secretary for Networks and Information Integration, since John Grimes resigned, and a new director of defense research and engineering was just confirmed recently. So there’s no one with the political clout yet in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to cuff the services’ ears and get them to align themselves around NECC.

To be fair, the Army has made some NECC efforts. Strategic Battle Command, the readiness and status system within the Army’s GCCS umbrella, is closely aligned with the NECC architecture. Last year, the Navy tried to push its NECC efforts forward during the Empire Challenge joint and coalition C4ISR test, but had problems and was directed to stick to DCGS for ISR. But the services are facing limited budgets, and right now they’re more concerned, perhaps, with incrementally improving or fixing what’s in place than placing a bet on a totally new IT architecture for C2.

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