The U.S. Navy's new computer network is so unfriendly that many sailors and marines are communicating via commercial email accounts. How can this be?
The navy has spent over $8 billion to connect nearly 400,000 PCs into one large, and secure (all data is encrypted) Internet like network. This will provide high speed, hassle free communications for everyone involved. At least in theory. This effort is called the NMCI (Navy Marine Corps Intranet) project. After six years of effort, users have a growing list of complaints. For example, because the navy found that there were over 100,000 different bits of (previously unknown) software being used on navy PCs, making the new network function at all proved much more difficult than anticipated.. Some of these 100,000 program were created by sailors to make their work easier, but the navy never really knew about this home brew stuff. At least not until they tried to get all navy PCs to communicate as a form of super-Internet. Initially, all the disruption caused by standardizing PC operating systems and software upset a lot of users. In late 2003, some 50 percent of navy PC users were unhappy with NMCI. But by early 2004, 60 percent were satisfied, and as of June, 2004, 80 percent were satisfied. However, the improvement was not all it appeared to be. Users were asked to rank their satisfaction on a 1 (not) to 10 (very) scale. Anyone who comes in at 5.5 or higher, on average, was considered "satisfied." In reality, most users are not happy with NMCI. Users don't like the idea that they have lost some control over their PC (which now has a lot of network standards to conform to), and that their computers are slower now because of all the network software.
Ultimately, the Department of Defense wants all the services to be able to communicate with each other quickly, easily and at high speed via a special military Internet. But first, each service has to get all of its own people working together. In the navy, this is not working. This failure has been something of a dirty little secret. No sailors or marines wanted to risk their careers by going public about it. That is, except for a navy reservist who happens to be a member of Congress. That would be Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois. He's a reserve officer, and he made public the "user unfriendly" nature of NMCI, and how sailors and marines use civilian Internet resources to avoid having to use the new navy network. Over the next three years, the navy plans to spend some $3.2 billion on NMCI. The navy says it will make NMCI more user friendly. Eventually.