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Defense Spawar changes commanding officers



Defense: Gauss Retires; Spearheaded Navy’s Switch to Commercial Tech

Rear Adm. Kenneth D. Slaght relieved Rear Adm. John Gauss last week as commander of the San Diego-based Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar), the Navy’s main technology procurement agency.

Gauss, who led the command since 1998, also retired from a 32-year Navy career with Friday’s transition ceremony.

Slaght has been Spawar’s vice commander since September, and previously served as its chief engineer.

Gauss will return to Washington, D.C. He said he is seeking a job in a federal agency outside the Department of Defense. While it is not his first choice, he said private industry could also be an option.

“It’s been a great 32 years,” Gauss said. “I’ve had a lot of fun, no regrets.”

During his Spawar career, the admiral said, he saw the popularity of military specification technology fall , and that of commercial, off-the-shelf technology rise.

He joined Spawar as a program manager in 1989, long before the command transferred its headquarters to San Diego.

In his early Spawar days, Gauss recalled, he was put in charge of a program that was “not in the best of conditions.” The only way he could see any sort of success with the job, he said, was to do it with commercial technology.

“We made a decision to shift the technology from mil spec to commercial when commercial wasn’t cool,” he said, “and that was extraordinarily high-risk.”

The project was successful.

More recently, during Gauss’ three years as the head of Spawar, the command rolled out both ship-based and shore-based networks with commercial technology. Ships are now equipped with Dell computers as part of the Navy’s Information Technology for the 21st Century program, abbreviated IT-21.

One of five network operations centers in its shore-based counterpart, the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, is now at North Island Naval Air Station.

Gauss said the information “highway system” he helped build now needs to be filled with traffic: content, data and applications, for both fighting wars and the more mundane business of running a large government agency.

Electronic commerce, the routine reporting of ship movements or automated battle planning, can all be carried out on the new infrastructure, he said.

As in the past, private enterprise can expect contract work in the future, Gauss said. He said a five-year system engineering and integration contract potentially worth $250 million is on the horizon. The Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (Fedsim) of the General Services Administration is handling the contract competition. “I would suspect the winner will have a substantial San Diego presence,” he said.

Asked about any frustrations as Spawar’s commander, Gauss said the slow pace of government buying does not match the quick pace of technology evolution.

Buying the components of IT-21 is not the same as buying the pieces of an Aegis cruiser, he observed. Building a ship takes five to seven years.

“The technology cycle for improvements in welding is a little slower than what happens in the computer market,” he said. “So when the computing speed doubles every 12 to 18 months, by the time we buy it, we get it installed, its technological life is near its end , even at the speeds we go.”

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