WASHINGTON — The Army put its request for proposals for the next version of its intelligence analysis framework out on the street today, marking an important step for a long-under-fire program.
The Distributed Common Ground System-Army's program office has conducted extensive market research to write the RFP, released today on the Federal Business Opportunities website, that will define the direction for the flagship intelligence analysis project.
Over the past 12 to 15 months, the project office has held multiple industry days, with some 500 attendees at each, and has also conducted over more than 80 one-on-one interviews with companies, Col. Robert Collins, the DCGS-A project manager, told a few reporters today prior to the request for proposals’ release.
DCGS-A has struggled to push through controversy and criticism for many years now, but "Increment 2," as the project office calls it, attempts to answer critics and improve on a system that is already fielded across the Army today with six sites around the globe at the corps, division, brigade and battalion levels.
The system is a "critical enabler for intelligence and intelligence analysis across our Army of about 58,000 military intelligence soldiers," Collins said. "It really allows us to be able to tap into about 700 sources that range from human intelligence, signals intelligence, geospatial data and even allows us to target into things like weather and also tapping into [open source] and cyber."
The RFP, according to Collins, "will continue to show our commitment to improving the system over time" and will give military intelligence analysts the ability to operate in "high-intensity, decisive-action operations."
The service has been embroiled in a long debate with critics, with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., being the most vocal, over the performance of the system, especially compared with a commercial system made by the Palo Alto, California-based company Palantir. Hunter has continued to question the Army's motives in choosing its own allegedly dysfunctional system over Palantir's offering that some have argued can do the same things more cheaply.
Some of the harshest criticism of the system stems from the fact that many soldiers found it difficult to use. Other criticism came from the framework's inability to work well at the edge of the battlefield where bandwidth is low, as well as the ability work securely on top secret enclaves.
With the RFP, Army leaders hope to show they won’t be abandoning its system already in use by soldiers, but and that by holding a competition for its next version, is it is listening to industry.
"This will all certainly build upon the many insights we've had within DCGS Increment 1 and it will also allow us to tap into the best in what industry has to offer," Collins said, "with some things such as advanced analytics, big data, cloud capability and others."
The number one No. 1 priority for the DCGS-A Inc. 2 program is to focus on the data architecture, Collins said. "There is an explosion of data that is occurring," he said, and industry has "unanimously" stressed to the project office the need to make its development the number one priority.
The project office will also focus on analytics, Collins said, "on how some of these information technologies can help the analytics of the intelligence and speed up the decision making process."
The third priority is to improve the system's ability to visualize data, "the kind of window from which the soldier looks into the DCGS-A architecture," Collins said.
"I think industry has been helpful in understanding the types of technologies that exist," Collins said. "They've helped us in understanding where there might be areas that we need to focus in on and certainly how we've structured incentives as we build our contractual relationships to make sure that we have a good arrangement that meets both the interest of the government and our industry partners," he added.
The next increment of DCGS will also build upon lessons learned from the first increment, Collins said. Improvements in speed, clarity and collaboration will be the focus moving forward.
"From a speed perspective ... at the end of the day it's not just necessarily about producing intel, it's about producing intel so that brigade commanders can make decisions," he said. "We are focusing so that the system can provide infantry and armored commanders [intelligence] faster on the battlefield."
The project office is continuing to target ways it can get better clarity on what the enemy is doing "and the number of sources that we ingest across security enclaves to allow them to be able to do that," Collins said.
The next increment must also help foster better collaboration between both the intelligence community and mission command across coalition and joint partners, according to Collins.
The DCGS-A project office will work on developing cloud connectivity for the system, Collins said, taking advantage of other initiatives like the Intelligence Community Information Technology Environment (ICITE).
But Collins cautioned: "One of the things we do want to make sure is that the cloud is good in most circumstances, but we do operate a little bit uniquely in an operational environment where there could be a disconnected operation, so we just have to make sure that we've properly looked at how that would occur as an Army is getting ready to deploy and operate in a disconnected, limited bandwidth type of environment."
The architecture developed in increment one should also be modular and open in order to integrate future capability, he said.
The deadline to submit proposals in response to the RFP is Feb. 8. Collins said between 15 and 20 companies responded to the last draft RFP.
The goal is to award a contract valued at $206 million to a single vendor in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016. "Given the nature of needing a fully integrated and fully federate solution, we anticipate an award to a single vendor. There is a number of subcontractor arrangements that is currently ongoing and I'm sure we will see that in the proposals," he said.