Despite delays and resistance, the controversial $8.8 billion Navy Marine Corps
Intranet—which is intended to connect the two service’s shore bases
and link up with deployed ships at sea—is growing quickly, according to
Navy Capt. Chris Christopher, NMCI staff director.
NMCI is an integrated computer network that will replace approximately 1,000
systems currently operating throughout the Navy Department, he told National
Defense. In doing so, he said, the intranet will provide increased security,
worldwide accessibility and interoperability with other services.
As of mid-September, more than 100,000 Navy computers were operating in NMCI,
Christopher said. “We anticipate that doubling within the next couple
Acting Navy Secretary Hansford T. Johnson and his staff joined the system in
August. The Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., along with its tenant commands,
began the transition to NMCI last spring. The first Marine computers were scheduled
to come aboard in October, Christopher said.
Eventually, NMCI will include more than 360,000 Navy and Marine computers in
more than 300 locations worldwide. But installation has been delayed because
of massive deployments to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Navy’s carrier groups and the Marines, in particular, were affected,
Christopher explained. “Whole bunches of them went overseas,” he
said. “As they come rolling back, they can be put into NMCI.”
Initially, the Navy Department intended NMCI to be fully implemented by June
of this year. The new goal is late in fiscal year 2004, Christopher said.
To build and manage the system, the Navy in 2000 awarded a five-year, $6.9
billion contract to Electronic Data Systems Corporation, of Plano, Texas. Under
the terms of the contract, the Naval Network Warfare Command, at Little Creek
Naval Amphibious Base, Va., would supervise operation of the sailors’
portion of NMCI. (related story page 38) The Marines’ director of command,
control, communications, computers and information (C4I), in Washington, D.C.,
would do the same for the Corps.
Unquestionably, NMCI marks a major change, Christopher said. “For the
Navy, this is comparable to going from sail to steam propulsion.”
Three of four network operating centers have been completed at major naval
hubs in Norfolk, Va.; San Diego and Oahu, Hawaii. A fourth, for the Marines,
was due to be completed at Quantico in September.
Meanwhile, the intranet is replacing hundreds of separate contracts and stand-alone
systems. “We had a mess,” Christopher said.
As a result, the transition is taking time. NMCI is being built and managed
on a computer-by-computer basis, in a process known as seat management, Christopher
said. It is the largest seat-management contract in the world, he noted.
Although seat management “is pretty standard” in the commercial
sector, it has proven quite controversial in the Navy and Marine Corps. “Everybody
hates it,” Christopher said. “It’s sort of a cultural issue.”
One of the problems is a widespread resistance to change. “That’s
human nature,” Christopher said. But the two services had to change in
order to come up with a single intranet, he said.
“Originally, we had 100,000 applications” throughout the Navy and
Marine Corps, Christopher said. NMCI expected to reduce that number to 31,000
by the end of September, he said. The eventual goal is 150 applications for
Web use and 350 for clients.
Under NMCI, computers should have only approved software. That means no games,
no personal applications, “nothing on there that we haven’t approved,”
Getting there, however, won’t be easy. “We’re facing a bunch
of real challenges,” Christopher said. “How do you go from the old
processes to a single system? That’s a real paradigm shift.”
Many operators are reluctant to part with their old systems. Some maintain
two computers in their workstations—one compatible with NMCI and their
In some cases, feelings boil over. At the Naval Air System Command’s
Weapons Division facility at China Lake, Calif., “a guy threatened to
shoot people,” rather than surrender his old computer, and had to be escorted
off the base, Christopher said.
It rarely comes to that, he said. NMCI officials acknowledge that keeping some
of these legacy systems make sense—temporarily at least. Some transmit
highly classified information. Others are Macintosh-based—a technology
widely preferred by graphics designers, but not supported by NMCI.
Generally speaking, if a local manager can make a case for keeping an old system,
it’s allowed, for the time being. “Eventually, there has to be a
plan to migrate to NMCI,” Christopher said.
In October 2002, the Navy recognized that implementing NMCI was going to be
more time-consuming and expensive than originally planned. It awarded EDS an
additional $1.9 billion contract, extending the work by two years, until 2007.
The Navy continues to urge local commanders to support NMCI. In July, Adm.
William J. Fallon, who was vice chief of naval operations at the time, asked
that commanders reduce applications and eliminate dual desktops. Also, he urged
them to provide “accurate and timely” application information to
EDS, to cooperate with EDS personnel and to train employees how to use the NMCI
Navy computer personnel need have few concerns about NMCI’s security,
Christopher said. It includes “state-of-the-art” firewall protection—the
“moat around your castle,” he said. Comprehensive password procedures
safeguard information in the system, he added.
The system detected and contained such viruses and worms as Blaster, Nimbda,
IloveYou, SQL, Slammer and Sapphire, but cannot guarantee protection against
every virus, Christopher said. “We did get hit by Welchia’ in August,”
he said. “It was supposed to be a ‘Good Samaritan’ program.”
Welchia is a worm—a virus that moves from one computer to another, checking
for the Blaster virus. It disrupted transmissions in about three quarters of
After Welchia was identified, the Navy and EDS worked with Semantec, a German-based
anti-virus vendor, which came up with a signature file for the worm. “We
were free of it within 48 hours,” Christopher said.
NMCI should become even more secure as the Defense Department makes the Common
Access Card the standard form of identification for all active-duty military,
selected reserves, department civilian employees and eligible contractors, officials
The CAC looks and functions like a credit card. Embedded in it is a computer
chip that allows it to store information. The card includes a magnetic strip
that permits information in the chip to be scanned.
Card readers are being installed on all IBM-style computers. To gain access
to your computer, you slide your CAC, face up, into the reader slot, log on
to your computer and enter your personal identification (PIN) number.
Security, however, wasn’t the only storm that NMCI had to weather in
recent months. In September, Hurricane Isabel slammed into NMCI’s network
operating center at Norfolk.
“In the week before the hurricane, the NOC and help desk started to pull
SOPs (standard operating procedures) for any possible situation they might face
during the hurricane,” said Tom Lerach, EDS NMCI director of operations.
For example, what should be done if a server farm is flooded or a generator
doesn’t kick in? Also, all mission-critical information that could be
impacted by the hurricane was moved to an inland location.
When the storm actually hit, the Navy decided to cut all base shore power,
and the NOC with its help desk switched to generator power until the storm passed.
The help desk began routing calls to the San Diego help desk, which had been
beefed up to handle the extra call volume.
In Norfolk, a core group of employees remained on station throughout the storm.
At no time during the hurricane did the Norfolk NOC lose connectivity, officials
Isabel may be past, but NMCI still faces plenty of rough water. In fact, some
question whether EDS ever will be able to fully implement and manage the system.
“Neither of us [EDS and the Navy] understood what we were getting into,”
Christopher said. “We’re going through a fire swamp. But we’re
two or three years down this road. We know more now than we did when we started.”
Christopher expressed confidence in the contractor. “EDS manages 2.5
million seats around the world, including the United Kingdom’s Inland
Revenue—their Internal Revenue Service,” he said. “EDS is
a big, serious leader.
“That said, nobody’s ever done anything this large before,”
Christopher said. “It’s been a pretty strong learning curve for
them. It’s been a strong learning curve for us too.”