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Army’s internal battle: Fight with GAO over battlefield intelligence system
Question of the Day
The Army's vaunted battlefield intelligence processor is "difficult to operate" and suffers "workstation system failures," a confidential government report says.
The Government Accountability Office examined the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which some soldiers in the war zone have rejected as being too slow and unreliable. The GAO report says users testified that the system actually "impeded the flow of intelligence information."
But the Army says the system is a great step forward in collecting multiple pieces of intelligence for analysts to retrieve to better understand the enemy — in this case, insurgents in Afghanistan or Islamic terrorists.
The June "official use only" report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, is being released as Congress writes next year's defense budget. There are moves afoot, primarily by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, to limit funding and force the Army to consider commercially available products.
One is Palantir, a computer program that specializes in finding links among terrorists, thus helping war fighters locate roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops. Mr. Hunter charges that the Army has made it difficult for units to obtain Palantir because officials want to protect the 13-year-old common ground system.
The GAO report notes that the Pentagon's top tester last year gave a failing grade to the common ground system, saying it could not survive a cyberattack and was not operationally effective.
"Problems included operational workflow deficiencies between different classified network enclaves, workstation system failures, the inability to meet system reliability measures, and network vulnerabilities to cyber threats," the GAO says.
It also said that soldiers find the system hard to use.
"The DCGS-A system requires 80 hours of basic training to learn how to use the system and can be difficult to operate because there are multiple components and data screens to manipulate," the report says. "Users also voiced concerns that the performance of the DCGS-A multifunction workstation, a key component of the system, was unreliable and that the different versions of DCGS-A in use in the field impeded the flow of intelligence information."
The Army tells an upbeat story about the system, which Pentagon insiders call "D-Sig." An Army general and an intelligence analyst appeared on "Fox News Sunday" to rebut charges that the system does not work.
"I've used it in the field, I've used it in Afghanistan. It's worked for me," said the analyst, Sgt. Shiladitho Deb. "I've received national-level intelligence all the way down to the battalion level, which we've used to roll up high-valued individuals in our area of operation. Getting them off the battlefield has resulted in lives being saved. It's also helped me paint a big picture for my commanders on what is happening so they can make the appropriate decisions. So for me, it has worked."
The GAO also examined Palantir and received mostly favorable reviews.
"Joint and military service commanders in Afghanistan began submitting urgent need requests to DoD for better tools to enable their analysts to determine the relationships among a wide variety of disparate intelligence data and to view the data in different graphical formats," the GAO report says. "Most of the requests identified a specific commercial analytic software system [Palantir] that was used in select joint and coalition operations centers in Afghanistan as the preferred solution. Users reported that the commercial product [Palantir] was easier to operate and saved them time in conducting intelligence tasks."
The GAO said special operations forces found Palantir to be "a highly effective system for conducting intelligence information analysis and supporting operations."
Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, deputy for acquisition and systems management, told Fox News that Palantir performs only about 10 percent of the functions of D-Sigs.
"Palantir does, we estimate, 8 to 10 percent of the functions that are required by DCGS, and what I would tell you is that right now we have soldiers using it in Afghanistan," Gen. Greene said. "We have a cooperative research and development agreement with the Palantir Corp. looking at how we can leverage the technologies that they have. And we're about to conduct an assessment of link analysis tools."
He added: "So we'll see what the results are, but we are certainly not fighting against Palantir. If they're found to be the best value for the soldier and the taxpayer, I'm sure that we'll adopt Palantir as part of the DCGS suite."
The GAO said common ground system developers have "made considerable progress" in developing one data standard so information can be shared among analysts in different military branches.
But the Pentagon has yet to develop a plan stating what metrics it wants the system to achieve. Without it, the GAO said, the Pentagon is unable to determine whether the system has improved the ability of analysts to carry out their tasks.
Army spokesman George Wright said the GAO report is positive for the entire "enterprise" of systems in use.
"Review of the full GAO report clearly communicates that each military service's DCGS program is working to support the DCGS Enterprise to ensure intelligence sharing across the military services, national intelligence community and coalition forces," Mr. Wright said. "It also states that we have had success and demonstrated improvements to common intelligence standards and interoperability certification and testing activities."
"Each service has a different set of requirements and responsibilities based on their mission. The Army has a larger user base and different mission set than the Marine Corps or SOCOM. We are working directly with the Marine Corps, [special operations command] and all other services to make sure we provide the best intelligence software and hardware solutions, maximize efficiency and increase collaboration," he said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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