Four House Democrats are asking fellow party members to consider blocking funds for the Army’s battlefield intelligence processor, citing the system’s huge costs and failed operational tests.
The four Democrats criticized the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) in a letter last week to Reps. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
The panels authorize and fund Pentagon programs such as the common-ground system, which is being used in Afghanistan to process and analyze reams of data on the Taliban and the battlefield.
“Congressional concern has increased with the revelations that some commanders in the field regularly report that DCGS-A is negatively affecting their ability to fulfill their mission and risking the safety and security of warfighters,” Reps. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. of Georgia, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, and Peter Welch of Vermont, all Democrats, said in the letter.
The four said the battlefield analysis system is slated to cost more than $28 billion over the next 20 years as the overall federal budget faces severe cuts.
“As part of our efforts to avoid indiscriminately devastating cuts to vital programs, we must take a hard look at failing programs to ensure taxpayers’ dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible,” they said in the letter, which listed alternative domestic spending if the common-ground system were denied funding.
The Washington Times has published several reports about the common-ground system, which Army officials have defended against internal and external criticism, and about a less-expensive commercial alternative called Palantir that field commanders have hailed as very effective in the hunt for roadside bombs — the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Times reported that a new version of DCGS destined for Afghanistan failed recent operational trials and that the Pentagon’s top tester said it is “not operationally effective.”
“Based on the continued failures of the program to meet warfighters’ needs, and the possibility that a cheaper and more effective commercial alternative may exist, we hope you will understand our concern with continuing this program as currently constituted,” the four House Democrats said in their letter.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has criticized the Army’s push to field the latest version of the common-ground system and has complained about the Army denying funds for soldiers to buy Palantir.
In December, the Army brought out the top brass at a news conference to endorse its battlefield performance as a central collection point for large amounts of intelligence.
“It’s really the Army intelligence-analyst weapon system,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty, who heads the Army Intelligence and Security Command. “DCGS has been used effectively in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world by both conventional and our special operations forces. We believe it enhances soldiers’ situational awareness and improves commanders’ ability to protect the force.”