What comes next for the biggest non-weapons contract ever?

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The Navy just awarded one of its biggest non-weapons contracts ever. Leidos will take over the new phase of the Navy’s Next General Enterprise Network, in an eight-year deal worth up to $7.7 billion. To find out what happens next, the enterprise and cyber solutions operations manager at Leidos, Dan Voce, and the president of the Leidos Defense Group, Gerry Fasano spoke to Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview Transcript:

Tom Temin: Gerry, why don’t we start with you. Give us a sense of the scope. What do you actually have to do under this contract? What will this entail?

Gerry Fasano: It is a large scale information technology and network engineering effort that really spans the entire Navy and Marine Corps network. Their data centers and also includes end user support for more than 600,000 users at hundreds of locations. So it is large. The Navy Assure Enterprise Network, plus something that’s refereed to as One-Net, which is there. Oconus Network. And then support for the Marine Corps Enterprise Network as well. Its scale is unprecedented. It’s really not what it is today but where the Navy wants us to go. On Valentine’s Day, the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Modly, put out a memo that talked about where his vision was and how the Navy is putting their emphasis on digital modernization as a core strategic priority. They say that a critical element of the Navy’s mission readiness is their ability to access agile, reliable and secure global communications information from the network enterprise to the tactical edge. This is their war fighting network. And from a Leidos standpoint, we’re here to enable just that. All hands are going to be on deck with the Navy. So that vision that he put out in that memo really translates the requirements we have for this new contract to transform and modernize their infrastructure, some of which are decades old.

Tom Temin: What does that entail, the modernization? Because the transport mechanisms, the protocols, almost everything is different. The idea of virtualization of networks has all come in since they got started on this many years ago. So what will modernization look like Dan?

Dan Voce: Navy has a number of goals here and there really formulated around their core strategic priorities. This vehicle is the mechanism to get at those priorities and deliver information advantage. So the core priorities are modernization, innovation and cyber. Not unlike a number of other large enterprises, the current infrastructure is certainly aging and there’s fragmentation. Our approach here is to deliver secure converge network architectures as one of the key tenants. To improve service and make it more defendable. At Leidos we have a digital modernization accelerator. It has been built. We’ve invested in it to get after problems that this particular network presents, and we’ll solve. So it’s across corporate team of our top engineers and researchers. And they do specialize in virtualization, software defined networks and certainly these days, AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) as well, to get after key pressing problems within operations like incident detection and resolution.

Tom Temin: That software defined network was something I was going to ask you about. Pretty much it looks like the way networks are going is too much more software, but a much simplified, if wider transport mechanism, the physical infrastructure. Would that be a good way to describe it?

Dan Voce: It is, and it’s something we’ve been working on for several years actually, to implement across DoD’s backbone network. The idea here is to implement network based applications to help in the delivery of services across the network. So not only service requests, enabling new capabilities but also in operations. Focuses on automation. Reducing the manual effort, which frees up our engineers to do other things like modernization.

Tom Temin: Gerry, as you take on this contract, do you have to first of all have a sense of activity of discovery of what it is you’re dealing with? Or can you just hire all the people from the former contractor and let them tell you?

Gerry Fasano: It starts with a journey. The Navy was pretty thoughtful on how they contracted for this effort. It’s a single award IDIQ (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) with task orders, and those initial task quarters are a series of transitions. So for the the main NMCI (Navy/Marine Corps Intranet), the assured network, it’s nine month transition window, which will allow us to go off and really understand the state of play, what they put in the RFP (request for proposal), which was written a year or two years ago. The network has continued to evolve, and so we’ll update ourselves from what we proposed and then worked through our transition plans. Then on the Marine Corps side, there’s a series of three month transitions. They broke that effort into 10 regions, and so there’s some of them in parallel, some of them staggered transitions on the Marine Corps. So we’ll be building up that knowledge and refining our transition plans during that window.

Tom Temin: One thing I don’t understand when you talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning, these are clearly parts of agencies modernizations. I think of those applications. When I think of network modernization, I think of the medium by which applications and data are delivered. What is the convergence between network upgrading and artificial intelligence as an application? .

Dan Voce: So we focus our AIML efforts in this particular of field on both operations in cyber. So as you upgrade the network, can you modernize it? Your operation has to keep pace. So what we’re using our tools from different partners of ours that we integrate into these particular environments to become more efficient, both running the network, again in terms of understanding the incidents that are out there and prioritizing them, as well as defending the network, helping us better understand which particular attacks, whether they’re false positives or not, which ones we need to prioritize on defense. So they kind of go hand in hand and as you modernize this network, you have to modernize how you run it in and defend it.

Gerry Fasano: What the AI brings to it is really the automation. It takes the mundane task of managing millions and millions of alerts on that network and allows us to use that technology to filter in on what the real positives were, the ones that require action. And that frees up our analysts on the pointy edge of those attacks to more smartly and quickly remediate the attack.

Tom Temin: How will this work operationally? Will Leidos people be operating some of the consoles in the network operation centers, along with Navy people or just Navy people? How will it work in that sense?

Gerry Fasano: It goes back to the approach to hiring in this. We come in to this knowing there are a lot of talented folks operating the network today, and it’s our plan to go off and look to engage them and retain a good portion of them. But make sure we blend in our own leadership teams and the talent that comes from our partners. So there will be Leidos and team Leidos folks operating the that work in partnership with the Navy. Dan you want elaborate on the partnership?

Dan Voce: Sure. The network is such that it is government owned. So in these scenarios, we partner, in this case with the Navy, to operate the network. So we work side by side with them on projects that are of priority to the Navy, to the Navy. CIO. Implement those and then, of course, operate. And as we operate networks and defend them, we are constantly providing status and feedback on the operations themselves, the attack vectors that are out there. So it’s a partnership, but one we take on and we own on behalf of the requirements that are given to us.

Tom Temin: Often in these modernization efforts you hear the term think big start small and scale quickly and, as you add, say, software defined networks that are monitored by automated machine learning types of systems. is there a test bed that you can kind of assemble all this on? Make sure it works and then inject it into the Navy? Because unfortunately, you can’t shut down their networks for a few months while you install the new stuff.

Dan Voce: That’s right. You hear the term DevSecOps all the time. That’s a process we leverage as well as we develop these capabilities. So we do leverage a test bed, and we will have one with the Navy as well. And as we promote these new features into production, we like to focus, as you said, incrementally. So for example, software defined networks for another customer of ours, we started out with very specific provisioning tasks. Get that in the network, make sure it works, go live with the next service.

Tom Temin: Is there a hardware component? Because often with these big files that represent entire networks that are virtualized, you need a little bit more bandwidth at the hardware level to be able to swing him all around.

Dan Voce: A couple aspects to that. When we talked about the modernization part previously on our bandwidth limitations today that the Navy experiences that’s on the actual transport itself, and those will require enhancements. In terms of the applications for operations in cyber, they also require hardware and that’s where you start to see cloud based approaches where you can leverage the power of the cloud to run the tools that you need to operate the network.

Tom Temin: Do you have any sense of how many devices that will have to be managed? Because everybody’s got a PC. Everybody’s got a smartphone, and Lord knows what else they have that’s particular to the Navy operations.

Gerry Fasano: I think the important thing start with Tom is the people. And then Dan will talk about how those people will go off and do that device discovery. As we mentioned earlier this is a very large program in the order of a couple of thousands of employees or more, and program start ups are always challenging. But we have experience on these large scale start ups, including defense information system agencies, GSMO programs, Global Solutions Management Operations, where we’ve demonstrated that. And most recently on the Air Force’s Air Combat Command. ISR program. We’re blessed with a really strong staffing engine. At Leidos we hired over 9000 folks last year alone and will do well north of 10,000 this year. So those folks will then be empowered and outfitted with a series of tools to help do that discovery of the devices. Dan, you want to tell a bit more about that.

Dan Voce: Yes. As we you mentioned hundreds of thousands of users, over 600,000 users, so that gives you a no idea of the scale of the number of devices we will be managing. As you said, every user has something. Desktop, laptop, mobile. It all starts with a good configuration management database, a CMDB. And then part of that process is discovery. You can’t manage what you don’t know. So we always focus our early efforts on programs like this. Like the program Gerry mentioned on ensuring an accurate CMDB.

Tom Temin: And do you have a good TikTok detector?

Dan Voce: I won’t get into too much of the details there but part of the overall DoD cyber defense mechanism is kind of defense in depth. In not only here we were in engine but lighters. We also defend the DoD’s global network that faces the internet access points as well as regional. And then that’s where we implement various tools. Commercial. Some government developed as well to address those those potential threats.

Tom Temin: Thanks so much for joining me.

Dan Voce & Gerry Fasano: Thank you.

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