- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Army is redesigning a major component of its battlefield intelligence network in Afghanistan that has been criticized by soldiers, weapons testers and lawmakers.

An Army solicitation to industry on Wednesday states that the network’s “current” intelligence fusion server “is insufficient.” The server is a hardware component of the Distributed Common Ground System, commonly known as “D-Sigs,” which processes data that helps analysts identify links between insurgents and uncover improvised explosive devices, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

An Army spokesman said the solicitation is for a “next generation” version of D-Sigs.

Its hardware, including “servers, switches and hard drives, fully meets the Army’s current requirements. These components are regularly upgraded to keep pace with hardware and software development cycles and expanding user requirements,” the spokesman said in a statement. “The Army’s current industry solicitations address needs for emerging geospatial information processing and consolidated software architecture requirements.”

The office of Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, has taken issue with the Army. Mr. Hunter and the Senate Armed Services Committee have pushed the Army to let soldiers use commercially available processors rather than D-Sigs.

A Hunter spokesman said the solicitation clearly states that the problems are with the current system. The document says D-Sigs “engineers have determined the current [fusion server] configuration is insufficient to handle all requirements.”

It does not have the capability to adequately handle transmission of satellite images or the demands of a command post communicating with other echelons, the document says.

“The solicitation is intended to create confusion,” Mr. Hunter’s spokesman said. “The hardware in the solicitation that the Army admits doesn’t work is the same hardware that’s in theater right now.

“And the idea that there’s some next generation under development is especially strange since they are talking about redesigning hardware that’s fielded now but doesn’t work the way it should. This is the game that’s often played. They are moving the goal posts.”

In addition, an Army intelligence analyst who has worked with D-Sigs for years said the current intelligence fusion server has problems handling the flow of satellite images and distributing data from command posts.

“These are problems now and problems for the last five years,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity to freely discuss D-Sigs’ performance. “They are trying to fix for the future because they don’t meet the requirements now.”

Last year, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester called the $28 billion D-Sigs “not operationally effective” because of a fusion server issue. Its report said D-Sigs is “not suitable” because of frequent crashes and reboots that destroy work products.

The Army analyst said crashes occur because of flaws in the fusion server.

In an earlier report, the Army’s top operational tester said: “The intelligence fusion process is technically met, but is operationally cumbersome due to inefficient internal workflows.”

The Pentagon’s testing office also found that D-Sigs “is not survivable against cyberthreats and does not provide adequate protection and detection against them.”

More than a year later, D-Sigs still suffers from cybersecurity shortfalls.

The Washington Times reported last week about a confidential memo from the U.S. command in Kabul that warned the Army that D-Sigs is too vulnerable to hackers.

Unless the problem is fixed in 60 days, the memo said, the command will cut it off from the military’s vast Internet files of classified data, making D-Sigs significantly less effective.

The intelligence fusion server is supposed to take data from a multitude of intelligence collectors and fuse them in one location so analysts at various echelons can retrieve information and come to conclusions about the enemy.

Army briefing papers tell how important the fusion server is.

“[The] intelligence fusion server collects and stores all secret and top secret intelligence products at all echelons,” the briefing papers say. “[It] connects soldiers to the intelligence enterprise.”

A second Army analyst, who also asked not to be named, said he became so fed up with D-Sig’s slowness and crashes that he now uses only commercially available servers.

“I guess now D-Sigs concerning the [servers] in this document is recognizing that it is not doing what it is supposed to, so here’s what we’ll do. We’ll get some more duct tape. We’ll get some more chicken wire. And we’ll contract it out to somebody else to fix it to make it do what it was supposed to do a long time ago,” the analyst said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved budget bill language that directs the Pentagon to conduct an independent assessment of whether D-Sigs can perform as advertised.

It fences off 35 percent of the Defense Department’s 2014 funding until the report is complete.

Members of the Army’s top brass steadfastly defend the network and have presented soldiers to the news media to vouch for its effectiveness in the war.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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