- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Army’s much-criticized battlefield intelligence network met only “minimum capabilities” when it was sent to the Afghanistan War, an audit says.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, requested the Army review in the wake of accusations that officials improperly took $93 million in war funds and shifted the money for a network-related project — a violation of the law because Congress did not authorize the shift.

Mr. Hunter, a former Marine officer who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, says sending a low-capability system explains why so many battlefield soldiers have complained about the Distributed Common Ground System.

“Minimum standards do not make sense when you are sending an intelligence network into battle,” Mr. Hunter told The Washington Times. “What the Army needed to be looking for was maximum capabilities for war fighters.”

Mr. Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has waged a two-year battle with the Army for fielding what he sees as a deeply flawed system.

Internal Army surveys reveal a rash of soldier complaints that the network often fails to provide its stated goal: to be a one-stop source for satellite images, terrain maps, surveillance video and intelligence reports on the enemy.

What’s more, Mr. Hunter said, the common ground system does not include basic “cloud” architecture to store and disseminate information to units around the world. He said the Army misled him on that issue.

The Army steadfastly defends the $28 billion network while conceding that some challenges remain. For every soldier who dislikes the distributed ground system, the Army says, there is an operator who loves it.

Army public affairs did not respond to The Times’ queries about the audit.

The U.S. Army auditor general report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, states, “The program deferred immature capabilities to a future release. Release 1 satisfied initial minimum capabilities for the program’s two key performance parameters (fusion and net ready).”

Concerning the network’s financing, the audit concluded that “controls were in place to ensure the correct appropriations were used and all obligations were captured.”

In a Jan. 7 letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, Mr. Hunter ridiculed the audit’s cost conclusions, which he said were based on sampling seven of the myriad programs that make up the distributed ground system.

He said the audit never mentions the accusation that the Army took $93 million in Afghanistan War money to fund Red Disk, a project to bring a cloud capability to the network. The predecessor to Red Disk, called UX, failed. The Army has renamed Red Disk as the Unified Cloud Database.

Therein lies another dispute between the congressman and the Army.

Mr. Hunter said the Army told him privately that Red Disk was part of the distributed ground system. The Army publicly says it was separate — a possible reason the audit does not mention the accusation.

“Nowhere is the violation properly cited nor the fact that such a significant error in judgment and accounting occurred,” Mr. Hunter wrote. “Even though this violation is still under investigation, its omission is confounding.”

The Army is conducting a separate investigation into Red Disk funding.

Mr. Hunter also wrote that the fact that the Army fielded a minimum network means that “the Army did not meet specific targets. All the while, DCGS has suffered incredible setbacks in development, demonstrated by successive failures — such as Red Disk.”

The idea of cloud architecture is to give intelligence analysts in different locations immediate and simultaneous access to all sorts of intelligence products.

Soldiers who fought in Afghanistan have said in internal surveys obtained by The Times that they often discarded the common ground system. They turned, for example, to Google Earth for mapping and to commercial software, such as a product called Palantir, for discovering operational links between terrorists and their cells.

The Army says a cloud for the common ground system is scheduled for Release 3. That is years away because the Army is planning for an industry competition next year to build Release 2.

This summer, the Army seemed to change its tune on soldier complaints. It acknowledged, after months of prodding from Mr. Hunter, that it needed to act on continuing negative feedback from the field.

It announced a call to industry for solutions, known as a request for information, as part of “ongoing efforts to address well-publicized soldier concerns regarding the existing DCGS-A system’s ‘ease of use’ in the field.”

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office issued an internal assessment noting that the Pentagon’s top weapons tester deemed the Distributed Common Ground System not operationally effective or suitable and dogged by workstation failures.

The Army first fielded components in 2000, but the war on terrorism meant that ambitions, and thus costs, grew. The Distributed Common Ground System, the Army said, would be an all-encompassing intelligence processor.

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