- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Congress is set to intervene for the first time in how the Army is developing its prized battlefield intelligence processor, which soldiers and the Pentagon’s top operational tester have deemed ineffective.

The House Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to vote on a defense budget for fiscal 2014; the bill includes language from Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and committee chairman, that would order the Pentagon to look at ready-made alternative systems.

The committee is expected to approve the bill, involving Congress more deeply in the Distributed Common Ground System. It is the Army’s decade-old solution for collecting, storing and dispersing millions of pieces of intelligence data crucial to understanding and identifying the enemy — in this case, Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican who saw service with the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the system at this stage simply does not work well enough to serve troops being battered by roadside bombs and a cunning enemy that can hide in plain sight.

Mr. Hunter has criticized the Army for making it difficult for commanders to obtain an off-the-shelf analyzer called Palantir. Soldiers have praised Palantir for its ability to find links between bad actors and thus help disrupt Taliban bomb-emplacement rings.

Mr. McKeon’s bill would direct the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition — not the Army — to assess the ability of commercial link-analysis tools. If the undersecretary finds they meet the requirements, the Army secretary then would be directed to request industry specialists show how they would develop such tools.

This could force the Army to integrate off-the-shelf items — something Mr. Hunter says the service is resisting to protect congressional funding for its homegrown system.

The defense bill also would require the Army to break out the common-ground system’s budget into individual lines for each component so Congress can monitor its cost growth.

The Washington Times first reported last year that units in Afghanistan had to fight Army bureaucracy at the Pentagon for permission to buy Palantir via emergency funding.

The Times also first reported on an Army memo that said tests showed the common-ground system is not operationally effective.

Politico reported May 29 on Army intelligence analysts who are contacting members of Congress as whistleblowers.

“It is a huge, bloated, excessively expensive money pit,” an unnamed Army reservist who recently finished a deployment told the newspaper.

Mr. Hunter, who has made defeating roadside bombs one of his legislative priorities, repeatedly has chastised the Army. The dispute boiled over in public at an April 25 committee hearing.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff and a leader of the Iraq troop surge, exploded in anger when he translated Mr. Hunter’s criticism as a personal insult.

“I’m tired of somebody telling me I don’t care about our soldiers,” Gen. Odierno barked.

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