After months of bad press highlighting leaked internal reports and emails pertaining to persistent issues with the Army’s Defense Common Ground System (DCGS) battlefield intelligence processing software, service officials convened a conference call on Dec. 20 to outline steps they say the service is taking to fix the issues, and to announce some good news.
On December 14, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall gave the green light for a full deployment decision for the DCGS, but only a scaled-down version that will not include a top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) capability. Existing intelligence systems will continue to fill that role until an upgraded system is deployed some time next year, Army officials said.
Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Army’s deputy for acquisition and systems management admitted that there are “some challenges with the [TS/SCI] portion of the program,” and that the service is working to field that part of the program after more evaluations take place in 2013.
Greene characterized the failures as being with the “work flows,” particularly when it comes to the top secret domain and the SIPR [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network] domain working together.
Earlier this year, the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) found that there were significant reliability issues with DCGS, and said that it was only “effective with significant limitations, not suitable, and not survivable.” In evaluations, soldiers have also complained that the system is too complicated, and takes too long to train soldiers to use.
While it works though those issues, Greene said that Army leadership asked to be “allowed to deploy the other components of DCGS-A minus the top secret sensitive, compartmented information component, and that we continue to use the existing systems that are on the top secret sensitive compartmented information domain to continue providing those capabilities.”
In the meantime, the Army has kicked off a competition in order to increase the capabilities of DCGS while planning to evaluate the system again at the semi-annual Network Integration Evaluation at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. next May.
Part of the continuing test and evaluation program involves Palantir, a software company that has become a big—and sometimes controversial—player in the battlefield intelligence-gathering world. As DCGS has struggled and the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased, thirteen separate Brigade Combat Teams have requested the Palantir IED mapping software, of which nine eventually received the capability.
The new software has created controversy among service acquisition leadership which is committed to DCGS, and who has bristled at some units acting outside of the traditional acquisition process to access the Palantir software.
“We recognize that there were probably reasons why units were requesting Palantir,” Greene admitted, despite an occasionally contentious relationship between the Army, the brigades requesting the Palantir software, and the company.
In May, the Army signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to explore integration of Palantir technology in the DCGS, and the company is one of six bidders selected to work on possible upgrades to the Army’s intelligence-gathering software systems.“They had a number of technologies that are of interest to us,” Greene said. “Ease of use, their ability to make links between data elements, and their ability to work in a disconnected and limited comms environment where we don’t have a lot of bandwidth.” The general did caution that Army and Palantir have to “agree to share and there has to be a benefit to both sides.”
In essence, the work being done at the lab at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland is focused on “how we can exchange information on how we can exchange information between Palantir and the DCGS. We had initial success in the laboratory and we’re looking at how we can build upon that,” he said. “We’re not fighting Palantir.”