Army Secretary: Congressman ‘Was Not Correct’

Army Secretary: Congressman ‘Was Not Correct’

The U.S. lawmaker who accused Army officials of not acting on a commander’s request for commercial software to gather battlefield intelligence “was not correct,” the service’s top civilian said.

“The example that was used was not correct,” Army Secretary John McHugh said during an April 30 breakfast with reporters. “The Army did not reject the operational needs statement that was referenced in the congressman’s comment. In fact, the commanding general ultimately withdrew it.”

McHugh was referring to an argument last week on Capitol Hill between Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.


Hunter, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, got up to leave the April 25 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee after criticizing the Army’s intelligence-gathering program called the Distributed Common Ground System for what he said was its increasing cost and lackluster performance. A commander who requested a commercial product made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. never received it, he said.

After a short back-and-forth between Hunter and McHugh, Odierno interjected, “I object to this. I’m tired of somebody telling me I don’t care about our soldiers, that we don’t respond. Everybody on my staff cares about it, and they do all they can to help.” Hunter later replied, “You have a very powerful personality, but that doesn’t refute the facts that you have gaps in the capability and the structure that the Army’s using right now.”

A YouTube video of the exchange has been viewed more than 70,000 times and images from the hearing have been shared on social-networking sites such as Facebook.

“If the gentleman wanted a response, I wanted to be able to comment,” McHugh said during the breakfast. “The chief spoke for himself and I think that’s fair.”

The software request came from the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., which is now serving in Afghanistan, according to Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Hunter. During the hearing, the congressman waved an e-mail from March 20 that indicated the Army placed a “hold” on the unit’s request to use the software after returning to the U.S., he said. Three days later, the request was withdrawn, he said.

“The congressman was already aware of the withdrawal when he made his statement,” Kasper said in an telephone interview. “What has still gone unanswered is the year-long obstruction 3ID faced in its attempt to acquire the off-the-shelf commercial software.”

The product is used by various military branches and commands, including the Marine Corps., Kasper said.

Lt. Gen. John Toolan, former commander of the II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in Afghanistan, wrote in a February 2012 letter that it “has performed outstandingly” in combat, reduced the time needed for analytical tasks and improved data sharing with allies such as the United Kingdom, according to a copy of the document provided by Kasper. The general concluded that he hoped the Corps “will eventually integrate Palantir into its program of record.”

McHugh drew a distinction between the two systems. The Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced “dee-sigs”), is a strategic-level intelligence gathering and analytical system that draws from 600 sources, he said. The Palantir software is a link-analysis system that uses far fewer sources, he said. The two aren’t necessarily incompatible, he said.

“Somehow, in too may people’s eyes, this has become a discussion of Palantir versus our Distributed Common Ground System, as either-or, and that’s just simply operationally wrong,” McHugh said.

The Army last year entered into a research and development agreement with the manufacturer of Palantir and is working with the company to integrate the software into the Distributed Common Ground System, he said.

“What Palantir does it does very well,” McHugh said. “It has an ease of use, its graphic clarity, its link analysis capabilities are excellent, and they’re valued particularly for their simplicity by many, many soldiers in the field,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to provide those assets and those capabilities to the soldier.”

The Distributed Common Ground System, meanwhile, is an integrated database designed to collect and share intelligence data from a variety of sources, including geospatial, human, signals, airborne and ground sensors, among others. The Army plans to spend $10.2 billion over the next three decades on the system, according to Odierno.

“I think all of us, and certainly Congressman Hunter, I mean this is a man, a war veteran, a man with whom I served and I have great respect for him, wants what we want, and that’s the best for our soldiers,” McHugh said.

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Palantir, to no ones surprise, is congressman hunter’s biggest campaign donor. I wish he was called out on that fact.

no. http://​www​.opensecrets​.org/​o​r​g​s​/​s​u​m​m​a​r​y​.​p​h​p​?​i​d​=D0

Adam Smith-ranking member, HASC.
Feinstein-Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Appropriations
Rohit Khanna-didn’t win
Josh Mandel-defeated in Ohio (against Sherrod Brown)

It’s idiots like sven here that try to blow the base of the argument out of the water by painting it as politics as usual in DC. Do some research before you start spouting off at the mouth.

same ole Washington K & L st. lobbyin’ B.S., the loser in this game is the end user!.…troops on the ground!

Interesting video — refreshing to see GEN Odierno stand up to grandstanding. Also, Opensecrets shows Rep. Hunter’s leading supporters include NG, Gen Atomics, BAE, and GD, Cobham, RTN, Rockwell Collins and Cubic. He’s has the big defense companies fawning over him — with our tax dollars.

Army 1, USMC 0. Complete destruction. The CSA mopped the floor with Rep. Hunter. (And lucky for GEN Odierno, Hunter is a Republican, otherwise he might be in McChrystal’s shoes right now, apologizing for insulting the civilian leadership and looking for a civilian gig.)

But the question remains.…. if DCGS-A is so great, why do units in the field keep begging for permission to use the COTS alternative (Palantir)? 3ID has been battling with the Pentagon for months over their various urgent Operational Needs Statements, which keep getting “withdrawn” later … hmm. Wonder why. Maybe a certain Major General got a chair thrown at him and was told to STFD and STFU.

It really doesn’t make a difference how much money Palantir is donating to one Congressman or another. That’s the nature of the beast in a place as corrupt as Washington. Safe to say that the DCGS-A prime contractor made some hefty donations of their own. That’s called dealing with reality. The only thing that really matters here is how well the systems in question perform in combat and save Soldiers’ lives.

For a little perspective, consider what one officer wrote from downrange: “We are trying to solve some very hard problems that pose life or death issues for the soldiers under this command, and [DCGS] is not making our job easier, while Palantir is giving us an intelligence edge. This is a pretty big redline for many of the units in the field, of which 82nd Airborne Division is certainly the most visible. The chain of command believes they need to have this capability in the fight and that it will save soldiers’ lives and limbs. Bottom line, there is a significant capability gap in DCGS … that Palantir greatly exceeds, and with extremely high stakes in a very violent environment, today we need the capability advantage that Palantir provides.”

The US Army’s track record with software related issues is dismal. The services as a whole have tremendous problems with developing and integrating software on the scale that they have deemed
necessary. Sounds like this Palantir should have been a interim purchase for field use, irregardless of who’s campaign they contributed. The DoD needs to get a grip on software, it is here to stay.

Forget about the fact that billions have been spent on DCGS-A, a system that to date, has never worked according to promises made by the defense contractors that have been doing the work from the get-go. Perhaps the Congressman’s questioning is not as nefarious as some would like to believe.

Sven, before you go popping off about something you don’t seem to have any real perspective on, I suggest that you acquaint yourself with the subject matter. In this case it is DCGS, its history and “issues”.

Well what could it be, other than “politics in DC”? If it was anything else. I doubt this Rep Hunter would even give a da-n?

Maybe the US Military should use Palantir’s approach to decision-making when the military is contemplating purchases. If you don’t know what I mean by that, see: http://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​f​8​6​V​K​j​F​S​MJE

In an Army with limited resources, unlimited responsibilities, we do not need another POR. What we need is a convergence strategy that leverages the goodnesses of both DCGS-A and the Palantir program, largely funded by a few three-letter organizations and Congress. Those in the know, regard DCGS-A as the Army’s programmed Intel system and TIGR (Tactical Ground Reporting) as the Army’s maneuver system for capturing ASCOPE data over time. Today, the ICOE only trains 35 series soldiers on DCGS-A, yet the 35F assigned to a COIST (Company Intel Support Team) often finds himself/herself behind a TIGR system at the Company/Troop/Battery level. The 35F receives his/her TIGR training at their supporting Mission Training Complex (MTC).

There is a lot more to this situation than meets the eye, but a couple obvious things need clarification.
1. Palantir is an application, not a system. DCGS-A is a system.
2. Palantir would potentially only play a small part in this system. A utility of sorts.
3. Plantir does not play well with others. They resort to a Congressman shilling for them to bully their way into the game. Not a good business strategy.
4. Also, Palantir has trouble meeting information assurance governance requirements because their code is proprietary and the company like sot keep it that way.
5. Palantir is not the only business intelligence SW that can do what they do. Their are other companies that understand this intel domain as well.
5. The Army did not create another Google or open source app like the Congressman suggests. In fact, the Army has leveraged open source as much as possible on this project.
6. Tere are lots of industry vendors on the DCGS-A project. The Army didn’t develop this program. They managed its development under acquisition regulations and authorities. They create transparency. The vendors involved, unlike Palantir, have competed, played by the rules, and collaborated with one another as a team.

good post. very true.

Joe —

If you are correct, maybe Rep. Hunter should be talking to his donors. All the services have been struggling to field major systems over the past 10–20 years, and industry has been part of that problem.

Our armed forces are for guaranteeing the nation’s security, not feeding trough for the military-industrial complex.

This post is exactly right — Palantir is an application, not a system. Two huge aspects of DCGS-A is the ability to aggregate data from a myriad of sources and then to analyze the data (mostly unstructured text) to pull out intel, relationships, locations, times, facts, etc. — Palantir does none of this. They assume all this work as been done and then they will take the analyzed data and make it easier to understand — this is visualization and a lightweight form of link analysis (meaning that the links have already been discovered by other software and Palantir highlights the links by compelling visualizations. What Palantir does, it does very well, however, they are the victim of their own marketing machine here. Palantir would want you to believe that they will do it all as this kind of hype is needed to rationalize their extremely inflated market “valuation” that they hype from time to time. If Palantir would characterize themselves correctly as a visualization/Bus Intel system, then this would be less of an argument. But, the value of BI solutions (there are others, Tableau, SAS, IBM, Graph databases, etc.) with Palantir’s revenue would be more like 500M, not the $3B+ that they hype. So, Palantir needs to have their spokespersons tout their ability to do it all — and so we have perpetuated confusion. Palantir does nothing for unstructured data analytics — they visualize the work done by others (like Synthesys) — look at their site — unstructured data is a partnership API not an in house capability. This is not a crime, just something that Palantir would rather we not focus on. But, when 80% of the world information is unstructured (meaning not in well organized databases but instead in emails, news, web sites, phone call transcriptions, field report documents, etc.) then Palantir has no answer for this — but DCGS-A must collect it and make sense of it. So, Palantir could be a very helpful visualization system for the analyzed data and it sounds like this is being looked into. But, Palantir as an alternative for DCGS-A, no way. DCGS-A isn’t perfect but it is trying to accomplish a very hard task with many tools working together. If you want proof of this, just ask people in the government who are trying to get out from under their Palantir contract because it was oversold and never delivered on the grand promise. By the way, IBM Watson is perilously close to this edge as well — be careful, the task of making sense of vast and varied data is too big for any one tool. If someone says they can do it all, walk away before you are stuck.

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