The Department of Defense July 26 released the final request for proposals for its $10 billion combat cloud contract, moving forward with its controversial plans to award the solicitation to a single vendor.

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract comes on the heels of contentious debate in the defense industrial and technology communities, as well as a shift in leadership on the project when DoD CIO Dana Deasy took the reins in late June. The RFP was originally expected in May.

“DoD has an incredibly unique and complex technology estate and finite set of talent and resources,” Deasy said in a released statement. We need help learning how to put in place an enterprise cloud, he said, and the JEDI cloud is a pathfinder effort that will help DoD do that.

Defense officials fielded “over 1,500” questions, comments and responses to earlier draft RFPs, many of which overwhelmingly pointed to a multi-vendor cloud solution as the better approach to meeting such expansive requirements for a global system capable of cutting-edge technology on the battlefield.

“To maintain our military advantage, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff established a requirement for an extensible and secure information environment that spans the homeland to the global tactical edge and can rapidly access computing and storage capacity to address war-fighting challenges at the speed of relevance,” one of the documents from the RFP package noted.

The package’s document titled “JEDI Single Award Determination and Findings” specifically singled out the need for artificial intelligence and machine learning as “fundamentally changing the character of war.”

“Leveraging AI and ML at scale and at a tempo relevant to warfighters requires significant computing and data storage in a common environment. Modern cloud computing capabilities can access, retrieve, manipulate, merge, analyze, and visualize data at machine speeds, providing substantial decision-making advantages on the battlefield,” the document stated.

“JEDI cloud is an acquisition for foundational commercial cloud technologies that will enable war fighters to better execute a mission that is increasingly dependent on the exploitation of information.”

The RFP was released at nearly the same time as the House of Representatives approved the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which would withhold a portion of JEDI funding pending a report from Deasy to Congress on the strategy, acquisition and planning.

Defense officials for months have been defending the single-award approach, even as leaders in the technology community have railed against the decision.

“We’ve not heard anybody say that a multiple-cloud solution is a better solution for providing that capability to the war fighter, and that’s why we’re saying that based on where technology is today, based on where the offerings of the commercial cloud providers are and based on current acquisition law, the department’s optimal solution is a single award contract,” said Robert Daigle, director of cost analysis and program evaluation at the Pentagon.

While officials insist it’s a full and open competition, and measures in the RFP provide time for vendors without current classified capabilities to meet strict requirements for hosting secret and top secret data, only one company current has such capabilities: Amazon Web Services.

“The department has multiple cloud contracts and we will continue to have multiple cloud contracts. We are working with a variety of companies and we want to leverage the entire industrial base,” Ellen Lord, under secretary for defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters in April when asked if AWS winning the contract is a foregone conclusion.

“So there is ample opportunity for everyone to play throughout the department ... I see no focus toward one company whatsoever.”

The deadline for bidding on the contract is Sept. 17. In-person question-and-answer sessions for those planning to bid will be held Aug. 13 through 15.

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