August 7th, 2012
11:55 PM ET

Army critical of its controversial intelligence system

By Mike Mount

An intelligence gathering system widely used by the Army in Afghanistan to detect roadside bombs and predict insurgent activity has severe limitations and is "not suitable," according to a memo from the Army's senior equipment tester to the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno.

The e-mail memo was sent to Odierno on August 1, and comes as the system - known as the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) - is in the middle of Army and congressional investigations.

The inquiries surrounds a newly developed software system called Palantir, which - according to U.S troops and commanders who have used it - is more effective in helping troops in Afghanistan track and predict the location of deadly roadside bombs than the existing DCGS.

The memo to Odierno, written by the head of the Army's test and evaluation command - Gen. Genaro J. Dellarocco - hammers the DCGS system for its "poor reliability" and "significant limitations," during operational testing and evaluation earlier this year.

The memo covers an evaluation of the DCGS during May and June of this year, according to the document, which was first reported in the Washington Times.

It is not clear what prompted the evaluation, which came during a time when the DCGS was still being heavily criticized by troops in the field as inferior for discovering roadside bombs and after requests to field the software were denied by Army civilians at the Pentagon.

While the language of the memo was technical in nature, it describes the DGCS software during testing of its overall systems as having limited effectiveness and "poor reliability" as exemplified by "server failures that resulted in reboots/restarts every 5.5 hours of test."

The memo also said that during high usage the system suffers decreased reliability and its software characteristics "negatively impacted operator confidence and increased their frustration."

During tests to see how the system can protect itself during cyberattacks, the evaluation was again poor, saying evaluators were able to, "identify and exploit several vulnerabilities," and recommended that a "tech bulletin" be distributed to troops in Afghanistan using the system to warn them of the hacking vulnerability.

In a response to CNN Security Clearance inquiries about the memo, Army spokesman George Wright said, "The report provides an initial review of DCGS software, which identified specific limitations in its performance. Many of these limitations were already identified by the Army and software updates have been implemented to address the concerns."

"Military software applications and tools today are similar to our smartphones - applications are constantly updated to meet user needs. The version of DCGS-A identified in this test is undergoing improvement in a constantly evolving process," Wright said.

At the end of the report, Gen. Dellarocco said that a different testing office - one run by Pentagon civilians - will give a rating that is, "mostly not effective, not suitable and not survivable."

"The Army relies on the testing community to provide evaluations and assessments of Army equipment, and we use their feedback to make necessary modifications to ensure we are providing the force with a capability that meets Army requirements and soldiers' needs," Wright said.

"The Army is currently working to further improve DCGS-A capabilities as we receive feedback from soldiers and units in combat," Wright continued.

"The Army's approach, which focuses on effective capabilities delivered to soldiers - not specific commercial products - is designed to field the latest technologies as we continuously strive for improvement."

The DCGS system came under fire last month when Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, cried foul after seeing U.S. Army documents that showed commanders in Afghanistan had been asking for the competitor system, called Palantir, but were repeatedly denied access to it by Army civilians in the Pentagon who insisted the soldiers keep using an inferior DCGS.

The Army has spent over $2.3 billion in procurement and research and development to fund the DCGS, while the Palantir system requested by U.S. troops is about $2 million, according to congressional staff familiar with the programs.

"I just want to make people realize we are still at war on the ground in Afghanistan and ground combat commanders are asking for gear that they're not getting," Hunter told Security Clearance Tuesday.

"They're not getting it because the bureaucracy and the Pentagon civilians have stopped them for their own personal gain and that's what upsets me in this case," he said.

Reports showed that the newer Palantir system was better at detecting roadside bombs than DCGS, and other services, like the Marines and Air Force, had full access to Palantir while only a few Army units were allowed to use the system.

Additionally, documents showed that Army test and evaluation command, the same group that wrote the August 1 memo, changed a favorable report about Palantir to then favor the DCGS.

Odierno ordered an internal Army investigation into what happened. Last week a congressional oversight committee started looking into why the report was manipulated, and has asked the secretary of defense to produce all the relevant documents by August 15.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Army • Cybersecurity • Military
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. rob vestal

    Dunan Hunter says, "They're not getting it because the bureaucracy and the Pentagon civilians have stopped them for their own personal gain and that's what upsets me in this case." This is the same DuncanHunetr that rode his father's coat=tails into Congress is is nothing more than a blow-hard. The same fellow that served in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines and does not have a single achievement award for over 7 years of services and two tours in a combat zone. The guy is probably getting kick-backs from Palantir and he's talking about personal gain.

    August 14, 2012 at 10:23 am | Reply
  2. Jo

    This is back to the same argument as when we were discussing body armor. Stop the bureaucratic bullsht and give our soldiers what they need to survive a conflict with ANYONE.
    Master Sergeant Jo
    5th Special Forces.

    August 11, 2012 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • Rajesh

      Do you not understand the detulerioes effects printing money has on the economy and people's savings? In turn what that does to the economy?You speak to the superficial short term effects it has on the economy. But what about the fundemental problems it causes? What about it's long term effects?Jeremy Siegel, I'm sorry, you look like a loveable guy. But if your understanding of economy and economic history is this flawed you should not be teaching. Especially not at the university level.

      November 13, 2012 at 3:51 am | Reply
  3. Everett Wallace

    if you dealing with congress you will always get substandard equipment for example the F-22's piece of CRAP, I'm more interested in the F-35 final answer, soldiers need to be rotated threw the proving grounds for this stuff. congress just wants another drink that's all they care about.

    August 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  4. Currently Using DCGS

    I've seen both systems. Palantir grabs most of it's date from the DCGS system. It's funny how they only pointed out one thing that Palantir does well. DCGS does many things very well.
    Both systems are only as good as the person reading the data. There os so much Palantir doesn't do that DCGS does.
    Looks like the Palantir big wigs have someone in thier pocket. Every time a true test has been done side by side, Palantir has lost. I've seen it.

    August 10, 2012 at 8:08 am | Reply
  5. Picha Negra

    wow, a news article that erronously reports the efficiency of an intel gathering system of the US Military, and the comments we get are all about Isreal being the cause for the slaughtering of civilians in Syria.

    August 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  6. NN

    Just another example of what we can expect from the inferior and incompetent acquisition and technical DoD civilian workforce, a bloated and apathetic bureaucracy full of dregs.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply
    • quarkk

      In the employ of israeli interests....

      August 8, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  7. Aaron Chaney

    LEBANON, (SANA) – Nasrallah: US, Western countries and Israel plotting to dismantle Syria... Israel and the Takfiri mind are the real threats to stability in the region

    Hizbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah charged the US, Israel and some western and regional countries with conspiring to achieve their desire of dismantling Syria by preventing the Syrian opposition from opening up a useful dialogue.

    Speaking during the annual Iftar banquet organized by the women's activities department of the Islamic Resistance Support Association on Monday, Secretary General Nasrallah surmised that efforts are being exerted to start up a dialogue between the opposition and the government but this is in vain because western nations and especially Israel seeks to destabilize and dismantle Syria no matter what happens between the armed groups and the Syrian army.

    Nasrallah insists that halting the violence and entering into a dialogue without preconditions is the only tangible solution for what is taking place on the ground in Syria while adding that those who put conditions on entering into a dialogue are like Israel and this is the takfiri mentality.

    "Ostensibly this is what actually impedes peace and it represents the real threat to any future security and stability, not only in Syria – but the whole of the region. Many countries and governments are involved in funding this murderous takfiri mind with billions of dollars, which has deepened wounds in the region and will ultimately push all parties towards the edge of an abyss from which there will be no return," warned the Secretary General.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • quarkk

      Israel plans their next false flag terror attack as we speak....

      August 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  8. saeed

    what usa has clued a couple of microchips to the hull of a humwee and calls it inovation.

    August 8, 2012 at 5:30 am | Reply

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