By Mike Mount, Senior National Security Producer
Congressman Duncan Hunter stepped up his push for answers this week about why Pentagon staffers denied soldiers in Afghanistan access to a preferred anti-roadside bomb software in favor of a system some believe to be less effective.
The California Republican sent a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh on Thursday asking for another investigation into the matter. The letter follows a request by Hunter last month for the House Oversight Committee to look into the Army's actions.
The issue surrounds software developed outside of the military procurement system by a company called Palantir. The technology ties together intelligence data to improve information for troops about the possible location of roadside bombs planted by Afghan insurgents.
But the Army has been primarily using other technology, the Distributed Common Ground System(DCGS). Reports from troops in Afghanistan suggest that the Palantir anti-IED system works better.
"From the time the Army's first conventional ground force requested the software in 2008, there have been deliberate efforts on the part of mid-level bureaucrats to deny units this resource despite repeated urgent requests from commanders," Hunter said in his letter.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has an ongoing investigation into a broader issue about whether an Army report supporting Palantir was changed to make the system seem less favorable than the DCGS.
That investigation turned up reports indicating that some troops were being denied Palantir by Army bureaucrats. Odierno's investigation is due to be completed next month, according to congressional staffers familiar with the investigation.
"Due to the fact that this is a persistent problem, and the necessity for the Congress and the Department of Defense to work hand-in-hand, I respectfully request that you, as secretary of the Army, initiate your own review of this matter and the problems arising within the acquisition process. This is not just a problem for the chief of staff of the Army, since problems with Palantir seem to mostly reside within the Army's civilian sector," Hunter said in his letter.
McHugh's spokeswoman, Col. Anne Edgecomb, said she expects Hunter's letter will cross McHugh's desk shortly, but the Army "does not comment on correspondence between the Secretary of the Army and members of Congress."
The Army has said it is using Palantir in the field in limited quantities. It is also testing the system and how it integrates into DCGS. Results from those tests are due in September.
Earlier this month a memo written by the head of the Army's test and evaluation command, Gen. Genaro J. Dellarocco, to Odierno hammered the DCGS for its "poor reliability" and "significant limitations" during operational testing and evaluation earlier this year.
Army spokesman George Wright told CNN, "The report provides an initial review of DCGS-A 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."
The Army has spent over $2.3 billion in procurement, and research and development to fund the DCGS. The Palantir system requested by U.S. troops is about $2 million, according to congressional staff familiar with the programs.