Army Units in Afghanistan Slam Intel System

Army Units in Afghanistan Slam Intel System

U.S. Army units in Afghanistan say the service’s multi-billion-dollar battlefield intelligence system is so complicated and unreliable that they continue to use commercial software instead, from Microsoft PowerPoint to Palantir.

That’s according to a Nov. 3 internal assessment of the service’s so-called Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced “dee-sigs”). Military​.com obtained a copy of the previously undisclosed memo, which includes feedback on the technology from several units serving in the country.

The 130th Engineer Brigade arguably had the harshest criticism:

“DCGS continues to be; unstable, slow, not friendly and a major hindrance to operations at the [battalion] level and lower, organic [joint staff communications-electronics directorates] being unable to work on them, requiring an entire set of private IP addresses that do not ‘work’ with the rest of the domain structure, unstable [tactical entity databases], system ‘upgrades’ that erase or lose all of the user’s data, woefully inadequate computing power, and the loss of ~3–5 calender days per month due to systems issues.”

The brigade, which deployed to Afghanistan in September and is responsible for construction projects across the country, was one of five units that met in October to discuss the system with Brig. Gen. Christopher Ballard, then deputy chief of staff for intelligence at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul, according to the memo from Ballard to a counterpart at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The other units that gathered for the first-ever board meeting to review the program included the 101st Air Assault Division in Regional Command — East, 4th Infantry Division in Regional Command — South, the so-called Fusion Center in Regional Command — West and the Theater Intelligence Group, according to the document.

Together, the five units operate three versions of the intelligence system totaling some 613 work stations, according to information in the memo. The 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Air Assault Division alone run almost 80 percent of the stations.

In their feedback, the units made clear that the system is too cumbersome to adequately train soldiers on before deploying — even after 80-hour blocks of instruction at places like Fort Huachuca, Ariz., during Advanced Individual Training or Officer Basic Course.

“Soldiers arrive at a new assignment with little support and understanding of how DCGS-A fits into the intelligence process,” the 101st stated. “Rather, we spend our time working on physical/person security and using Microsoft PowerPoint.”

Of the thousands of soldiers in RC — West, only one received additional training beyond what was provided during Advanced Individual Training, the center stated.

The system’s so-called multi-function work station, or MFWS, “incorporates too many sub-programs to ensure even basic competency with the level of training currently given at the school house,” the 130th stated. “Even after 1 week of foundry training the system it still too complex and overwhelming for most to use.”

During a presentation last year at Fort Belvoir, Va., Army officials said the program draws on more than 600 sources of information, from Global Hawk drones and GPS satellites to ground sensors and biometric scanners. It uses a mix of military and commercial software applications, including Google Earth made by Google Inc. and i2 Analyst’s Notebook made by IBM Corp.

But units said they only use a fraction of the system’s applications in part because soldiers in the field use other software for various missions.

For example, the 101st relied mostly on ArcGIS, a mapping product made by Esri, and rarely touched such tools as QueryTree, Link Analysis and the Tactical Entity Database, or TED. The unit turned to a separate commercial product called Palantir for some of its intelligence needs because it was more intuitive and other soldiers were already using it for targeting purposes.

“Our targeting cell uses Palantir, because the Brigades use Palantir for ease of use,” it stated.

The product, made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc., was the subject of a debate last year between Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who has criticized the cost and effectiveness of the Army system.

Across the military, the Distributed Common Ground System is estimated to cost at least $10.6 billion. More than half of that, or about $6 billion, has been spent, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Yet glitches in the program persist, according to the Army units in Afghanistan. Perhaps most notably, troops can’t pass information from servers on the battlefield to those on stateside bases — a seemingly basic network functionality that’s now standard on commercial websites, from Facebook to Google.

“Transferring information back to the reach back using data mover is not possible, as it is currently not working,” the 4th Infantry Division stated. The program manager “is aware of it and they are trying to fix the issue,” it stated.

Ballard’s summary of the meeting was more optimistic. He repeatedly described the system as a “very powerful tool,” while acknowledging its shortcomings “in some areas,” and recommended for the service to implement additional pre-deployment training.

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Are the 613 work stations secure from any “back door” intrusions? This intel system should prevent any unnecessary leaks, unlike Microsoft products. Maybe the designers of the software would like to do a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where their “glitches” can do real harm to our troops. $6,000,000 spent so far for an intel system that is too complicated for battlefield use? Sounds like the R & D engineers need a taste of reality.

That’s $6 BILLION spent on another system with bugs. Does anyone know the background of its development? Seems I read this on one these sites. Specialized training looks like the option for personnel operating this complicated snafu. Back in the day I had FORTRAN courses and was involved with the transition to the mini-computer. But hard and software have changed much. If developers can’t design user-friendly intel systems for the US military, they should have to pay back some of the bill. Was this in-house or out-sourced development?

> should prevent any unnecessary leaks, unlike Microsoft products.

And I bet that those workstation works on Windows. As much as I like to bash on microsoft, X windows is quite an horrible platform in term of security.

But such fundamental lack of information transmission (or whatever it’s called) should have been part of the design from day 1, and to had the appropriate security measure around it.

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s not that incremental development technique that have been pushed so far that programmer are working on sub modules that works and lost the big picture. But that was likely an issue 20 years ago.

As one of the personnell identified above that is supposed to be [attempting to] use DCGS, I will say that while we have DCGS support personnell in the room, we still use Palantir right in front of their faces. DCGS is a waste and should be slashed.

Yet another example why Congress must force DOD to embrace an Agile Acquisition Method in leu of the design to spec DOD 5000 process and FFRDC resources at the root of this and ever other Defense IT problem. Worse, this program met every one of the milestones reviews facilitated by Mitre, a federally funded R&D corp that is vested n the current process. DOD wastes about $17 billion per year on IT programs that rely on this process ans FFRDC resource.

The second coming of ASAS / ASAS-lite… hopefully they get it fixed… coffee maker real estate in the TOC is hard to come by and us Senior NCO’s need our caffeine.

ASAS can be renamed and miniaturized but the same issues were around 20 years ago when it was running on Sun and DEC machines. Design by committee, planning via survey, and testing by Fry Boulevard contractor bandits in Sierra Vista, AZ.

The MFWS part of DCGS is the main issue and it is truly the second coming of ASAS/ASAS-Lite because it’s made by the same company. Hell, it’s many of the same tools made by that company under the original Program of Record. Having dealt with DCGS and Palantir (who’s the first guy from the conventional side to walk into Palantir HQ? This guy), I learned a lot about how the Program of Record works — essentially this stuff was decided 20-some years ago when the company was awarded the contract to build ASAS. Army leadership went to Congress and Congress awarded the Army the money for it. People then became quite invested in the program and now, sadly, we’re stuck with it. Two years after I retired and I’m still reading how much everyone loves Palantir but hates DCGS.

Like I said in my opening line, MFWS is the main problem. Many of the other tools and capabilities in DCGS are actually pretty good.

I find it interesting that Intel soldiers want a system that is easy to use when they are getting paid to do the analysis. You would think that someone would be concerned that soldiers are looking for an “easy button” system like Palantir whose civilians do the database management, rather than hold the soldiers accountable and make them do the database management so that they can be much more effective at assisting the combat arms soldiers in finding the enemy, I also find it interesting that Rep. Hunter who continually puts down DCGS and supports Palantir does not share that Palantir HQ is located center mass within his district. Also he fails to share that he served with Palantir leasership while in the Marines. Guess no one thinks there is backdoor deals happening there. No one system is going to be great for Intel work.

Intel soldiers now are lazy and want the system to work for them. When the Inf unit I was in traded in our Bradleys for Strykers, the Mech soldiers did not like it, but they found a way to make the Stryker work because it is what we had to use in combat. Why cant Intel soldiers stop complaining and just execute like their combat arms brethren? I find it interesting that no one mentioned 18th Airborne Corps who is there now and is using DCGS instead of Palantir. I know Intel soldiers in that unit and they have expressed that they like DCGS, and that they trained on it for 6 months before deploying and know how to make it work. I wonder how much time the units mentioned in the article spent on pre-deployment training. That was not mentioned in the article either, maybe because the lack of training would make the unit leadership look bad and it was easier to blame the system. I think before people beleive everything they read in an article they dig deeper to find the truth which is never truly expressed at all. Everyone has an agenda

As a 98J I first encountered the Sun version at Huachuca… went on to a decades worth of assignments and never saw it again. Then before my first trip to Iraq I reclassed 35F and the instructor pulled out this toughbook saying ASAS-lite is the best thing since sliced bread.. never saw it on the MTOE or in use in any way on either deployment. Since iterations like this have been going on since 1984 there has been a lot of money put into this integration. This toolset has the ability to really enhance reporting and analysis.. but it does need to be accessible. I remember having to teach myself Boolean search logic to find reports critical to my AOR. Not sure why everything has to be so complicated when off the shelf technology has already provided the proper architecture.

Would be better spent on Marksmanship, body armor, and tactics training!

This article fascinates me while at the same time confuses the hell out of me. Palantir does a good job in certain situations, no doubt about it. BUT, how is Palantir going to do the job when it comes to conventional warfare? How is Palantir going to ingest USMTF messages, how will it interface with the Fire Support Element to nominate targets. What will its role be with the other BFA’s when it comes to ensuring that a coherent COP is being seen by all. This is something the Palantir community never wants to talk about and will always change the subject on. It is a given that DCGS-A is not perfect and is complex, but unfortunately soldiers (especially the simple minded ones in the MI Corps now) want something that does the work for them. And since we are shifting gears, it is a travesty that the 35F committee at Fort Huachuca cannot fail more than 15% of the students there. As a former instructor (I left before the layoffs of instructors) there it is embarrassing to see the analysts that are allowed to graduate now. Of course they like Palantir, it is pretty colors and shapes and tracks with their skills to sit in the corner and color, it does the work for them and what soldier wouldn’t want a system that does the work for them instead of DCGS-A a system one not only has to learn, but has to continue using it or see ones skills atrophy. Finally, let’s talk about 130th Engineer Brigade, this unit hails from Hawaii and I know for a fact that they were offered multiple training sessions and turned them all down. There is leadership in the Brigade S-2 office that was determined to see DCGS-A fail and made no bones about their hatred for the program while on Oahu. Like I said, Palantir does some things well, denying that is being dishonest, but it is also dishonest to claim that soldiers are trained (they aren’t) and it is even worse when an individual with an axe to grind is allowed to influence a program. The MI Corps continues to be an embarrassment when it allows out-sized egos and half truths to be heard. The contractors are a problem, no doubt about it, but the aren’t the only problem. The long, slow, sad decline of the MI Corps continues led by egotistical halfwits. Sad days.

Rep. Duncan Hunter is Congressman for the 50th District of California, encompassing a large part of the inland-side of San Diego County. This is roughly 500mi from Palo Alto, CA, where Palantir is actually headquartered, center mass within the 18th District of California. Hunter’s district has perhaps a handful of Palantir guys due to the proximity of Pendleton. Now, I’m not a Hunter fan; he’s a politician, and always will be, and has his own motives for trying to score points on the DCGS debate. But Palantir isn’t a direct constituent of his.

I’m not sure what you mean by database management. If you think soldiers are doing the heavy DB management on other systems overseas, you’ve clearly never met the army of civilian DCGS “mentors” that struggle to keep that system online. The thing is unstable and often unusable, and needs to be damn near completely overhauled before it will be effect on any regular basis.

It’s not a question of laziness on the part of intel soldiers (but thank you for your insulting point of view). It’s making intel soldiers more efficient and better able to provide mission-necessary and potentially life-saving information. Palantir does one aspect of intel very well, much better than the equivalent component of DCGS, and one that is very important due to the nature of the conflict we’re engaged in Afghanistan. But it’s not a full suite of tools like DCGS. The debate has been miscast as DCGS v Palantir.

There is nothing inherently wrong with DCGS. The interface is not particularly user-friendly but the system itself meets the needs of your average analyst. No, the problem is that DCGS servers and the workstations used to interface with them are obsolete and due to Army policies on network security will likely never receive the upgrades they need to bring them up to a usable level of speed and reliability. The system works fine when you are in the same building as the DCGS servers, but try to go anywhere else and things drop to a crawl.

More of Gen. Oreardo’s programs don’t work and are a burden to troops .….…. Shocking.… Not really!

FORTRAN! don’t tell me u were using “punch cards’!????

Thanks for the updates guys (gals)! I just hope the bugs can be worked out. And that probably means more technical training, six months at least?

Its unfortunate if what u say is true about the 130th. I served proudly w/that Bde when it was a “Corps” asset w/567Eng Bn HQ’d in Hanau, W.Germany. It was a Can Do Outfit in those days. It performed admirably in Iraq twice, & if not mistaken closed up shop their in ’07. If theirs institutional corruption in its leadership ranks, those officers need to be purged!

Add another 3 zeros to that number

Thanks for the updates guys (gals)! So at least six months of training is needed to use the system, at least? Hope they work the bugs out, combat arms needs timely intel.

No punch cards, we were just past that. But when BASIC and FORTH (a precursor to the C family) came out it was a real joy. And back then I was in the Experimental Computer Club! Wish I’d stayed with Electronic Engineering.

I believe the real question here is what could be done to simplify the identification of intel info and the integration of it into the combat units. The problems being discussed are well acknowledged in the IT world as having too much information. A mismatch between purpose/need and equipment/outcome.

No accountability here, either by the government or the contractor. Just $6 billion in petty cash.

Part of the problem is we need to get over our fascination/obsession with technology in general and get back to the business of winning the war and protecting the peace. With all this “great technology,” we still haven’t won a war since WW2. How sad. Solution. STOP paying for this worthless stuff!

Here I come to save the day!!! (part 1)
Many comments about the negatives of DCGS-A… some of the mentioned in the above posts need validation. Regarding “system updates erase or lose data”… if the Soldiers are doing their work and saving the work in Folders/VCAB/Shape files/Templates/Modes or even to the TED etc. …things that were taught in the course… they wouldn’t have data loss…Save it to the Server or to their personal laptop. Like any other computer system/program Save and Save often, especially when deployed where things aren’t always stable. Some of it has nothing to do with DCGS… you may have to talk to the S6 shop regarding the Band/Space available, especially with the many competing systems and users.
Regarding the system being cumbersome to adequately train Soldiers… Did you learn everything that there is to learn in your So Far… Army Career in Basic and AIT?? NO!! you didn’t Right? You learned on the job, you polished your skills with additional training and sustainment training… how much of this was done by the Units?? How often where these systems set up in the rear and used during Sergeant’s Time Training or other Section Training?

Here I come to save the day!!! (part 2)
There are many tools in DCGS, but just like a Toolbox, you use the tools you need… Don’t turn a Nut with a Hammer…use the Ratchet… just the Tools You Need from the Box… Not the Whole Box!!! The units need to prepare, don’t wait until it’s three months out till deployment to start training, or even worse, pulling the system out for the first time from the CONEX its been stored in since the training occurred.
If the Young Analysts/Soldiers didn’t learn the basics of the Intel Process and Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in AIT, Units you need to Teach them!!! The Commander should be looking at this!!! The Commander Drives IPB, the Staff and Soldiers support this for the Area of Interest… Shame if they don’t do Analysis and depend on the Easy Button!

Here I come to save the day!!! (part 3)
The tools of DCGS do a Great Job if the Intel Soldiers do theirs.… Not just the Junior Soldiers, but the Leadership. How great is Palantir with saving all that data and metadata… a pretty picture is just that… a pretty picture… data mining, history, analysis and products… the 2D Map on the MFWS works well… all the tools talk to each other… Query, Plot… Right Click read the messages, send messages, plot to other tools for analysis… it’s all there… use the tools you need. Shapefiles from 2D Map can be used with ArcGIS making life easier… and Yes it works with the WEB… there are many tools included for sharing via the WEB. Bottom line Train beyond Basic Training… you didn’t become an NCO or Major straight off the street…
Sorry No Easy Button here… No “Do the Jingle”.

The point is, the cost of the system itself is not worth the investment. After 6 deployments I have yet to see a Soldier or Contractor use DCSG-A for anything. Normal operations see Palantir, TiGR and CIDNE as the go to systems for gathering and fusing data. ArcGIS or Google Earth for graphics and PPT for daily products. If you had a car that continually broke down, was slow or wouldn’t start, would you continue to dump money into it? Or would you find something more reliable that could meet your needs. Pretend the investment is your money and not an endless pot of government funds that doesn’t impact your bank account. The decision is a no-brainer, quit dumping money into something that has not and is not working. And find a more cost effective solution that allows for mission accomplishment.

That’s cost-plus for you

Unfortunately, this generation is trained to stick with “what’s easy”. That’s why touchscreens with minimalist UI’s are de jure and command line interfaces are too powerful, ergo, too difficult.

I have to agree with some of the other posters that a lot of the gripes rehashed about DCGS is really about something else…lack of individual initiative and unit emphasis on training. I’ve worked with the program for quite awhile. It’s not without its problems (especially on the technical side, mostly because of conditions downrange and issues with service contracts) and has a lot of programs that most analysts won’t use…but it has sufficient tools for analysts to be able to do their jobs, and do them well. Most analysts will never need to know how to operate more than ArcGIS, MFWS/Analyst Notebook (or Palantir, which is now under the same contract as DCGS in Afghanistan) and QueryTree to do their jobs competently. They can put out solid, competent products with those programs alone…assuming they’re solid, competent intelligence analysts. For those who actually take the time and initiative to learn additional programs in the suite (which, from personal experience, I can say most military analysts will not do, unless they’re ordered to by their supervisors), DCGS can do a lot more. But as far as ease of use goes, while the interface isn’t perfect, it’s also not rocket science and isn’t beyond the capabilities of any competent intelligence analyst to figure out. However, it’s up to the analysts to care about working at their craft and their units to emphasize training if individual initiative isn’t enough. A lot of analysts don’t bother to put in the effort and a lot of commanders and first-line supervisors simply don’t consider that a priority. So you end up with a lot of people who don’t know how to use a key system for their job because they didn’t care and their unit either never arranged training or spent most of their time in the rear focusing on ancillary duties that didn’t help their soldiers as intelligence analysts or systems operators. A lot of that can be blamed on the op-tempo and the fact that we’ve been at war for over ten years and have seen a lot of important mid-level experience exit the service…some things always get overlooked when garrison time is limited. But a lot of that also comes down to units and analysts making excuses for why they didn’t put in the effort to learn this stuff back when they were prepping to go downrange. Ultimately, whether any particular system is good or bad, intelligence analysis is still a job that’s been done for decades (and is still done, in many units) with nothing more than pencils, paper and a map…and it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools for his own inability to perform.

If units want capable DCGS operators, they have to put in the effort to train them *at the unit*…no soldier has *ever* come out of AIT knowing everything he’s supposed to know about doing his job, and no single system will ever exist that can perform every analytical job the Army needs done, because the Army’s roles are too diverse for that. DCGS isn’t perfect, but neither is any other system you’re ever going to see…including Palantir. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still do analysis with those systems, as long as your *people* are good at their jobs. And they’re only going to be good at their jobs if units and individuals are doing the training they’re supposed to in garrison. Absent that, there’s not a system you could build that’s going to fix that problem.

@Blackhorse…ArcGIS is a primary part of the DCGS system. So are CIDNE, Google Earth, Microsoft Office (including PowerPoint) and now Palantir. I’m not sure what you think DCGS is, but the actual system includes all of those programs you named that you used to do all of your analytical work.

The stations are secure from a “back door” intrusion as much as the SIPRnet is, because that’s what it operates on. It’s not used on an unclassified network.

wow.…just wow. It’s people like you that make soldiers people hate the army. I couldn’t stand people like you when I was in.

It’s clear you have absolutely no idea what an intelligence analyst does or how DCGS ties into their jobs. It’s not about having a program do a job for you as you suggest. It’s about having a tool that helps conduct analysis. It’s like a rifle is to an infantryman, or a bradley to a cav scout. It’s a piece of equipment that helps them do their job quicker and more efficient. As far as your suggestion that intel soldiers “stop complaining and just execute”.…what do you think they’re doing? You think that just because they don’t like a system means they’re not doing their work? From your asinine comment, I suppose you would prefer intelligence analysts keep track of all enemy activity on a grease board and store historical data in filing cabinets? Maybe when they’re doing mission analysis for something outside their AOR they could have their neighboring unit send them some data via carrier pigeon?

I spent almost 3 years deployed between Iraq and Afghanistan and I received a single 80 hour class before my first deployment on DCGS. That was it. so just because you have a friend that trained on DCGS for 6 months before he deployed (which is a lie.…nobody would spend 6 months training on that system) doesn’t mean that everybody did.

So when you say the only training you received on the system was the 80 hour class, does that mean didn’t use any of the online training resources that were posted for you on this system? There are step-by-step instructions posted on how to use almost every key function of that system, available to you both in garrison and downrange. Exactly how much time did you spend looking at those? Training in the Army doesn’t stop with what you learn in the classroom, and the 80 hour block of instruction is only meant to be a primer. If your unit has DCGS, did you set it up and work with it when you were in garrison so your analysts could build products with it and identify issues with the equipment there? Did your NCOs do sergeant’s time instruction to provide follow-on training and evaluate analyst performance with the system? Because that’s how intelligence analysts are *supposed* to do their jobs in garrison. If that computer system sat in a box until deployment, gathering dust, the analysts didn’t study the online resources and the unit didn’t do any internal training with their personnel on it before they deployed, it’s little wonder that they struggled to work with the system. If an infantryman followed that approach with his weaponry, he wouldn’t be good at his job either.

As for building products with grease boards and filing historical data in cabinets, you should also know how to do that too, and should probably do that as well. Because the number one rule of deployment is that technology *always* breaks at some point in theater and if the computer breaking brings your job to a halt, the problem isn’t the computer. I believe that’s the point Secret Squirrel was getting at.

Actually, they can use the system after the first two weeks of class. It’s just that they have to keep working with it to have more than a basic skill set. Same as with just about any computer program. You aren’t going to be a master at anything after a two week course if you don’t continue to work at it. The system is complex because intelligence analysis done correctly isn’t just a cut-and-paste of SIGACTs. That’s not to bag on Palantir (which is an excellent program)…but there are a lot of things that Palantir can’t do as well as DCGS. *Both* systems serve key roles for intelligence analysts. And neither system is going to be able to overcome apathy by units and individual analysts towards improving and expanding their skillset.

DCGS for Dummies?

“A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” I’m concerned about our US military hardware. Were the work stations made by Lenovo or their chips in Korea or the PRC? A recent audit found Chinese parts substituting for OEM Western parts throughout military electronics, etc. There’s talk of “back door” access being designed into microprocessors, etc. Some pretty sensitive hardware had these parts.

Thanks. As an 11B Grenadier in the 70’s I wasn’t privy to S-3 (sp?) Intel in Germany. Didn’t learn about computers until I was out in college. Yet some are right about training being minimal until you got out to your units. In this age of computerized battlefields I try to keep up through sites like these, as a citizen. If systems need additional training to aid servicemen (women) in their efforts to analyze information, then such systems should be designed to be as user-friendly too. For the goal is the info, not the interface to it.

Is this Insurance market place? I used the system and when it worked it was very good for certain things at a very basic level. It is a system that needs an MOS of its own.

Even if there were “back doors” into a computer, there would have to be an access available to an adversary. The SIPRnet is a closed network, so even if there was a “back door” the nefarious actors couldn’t reach its location.

No, I got an 80 hour class and that’s it. I had to learn as I worked. My first unit didn’t have it’s own SIPR connections anywhere, so we had to request space in other units SCIFs. As far as SGT’s time, when that was done it was focused on the annual “basic soldier skills” we had to do.

And as far as building products with grease boards and filing historical data in cabinets, how would you propose that happen? Have you deployed recently? Have you seen the space (or lack thereof) that an intel section gets? Do you have ANY idea how much paper, how much ink…just how many supplies that would require? It’s not practical to do that today. Analysts SHOULDN’T be expected to know how to do this. It would be a HUGE waste of training time. Having said that, I think a lot of intel soldiers would be able to work like that if they needed to and they had the available resources.

I’m deployed right now, working with DCGS, successfully. I’ve seen what intel sections get for space and they aren’t in broom closets, nor are they lacking in paper, pens, maps or printers. I’ve also trained intelligence analysts how to perform intelligence operations without digital support, because that’s how they sometimes have to do their job if the power goes out and computer systems don’t work. It’s basic skills training and it’s important regardless of what tools they work with. If they don’t know how to do analysis with paper, pen and map, they’re probably not doing quality analysis with DCGS or Palantir either…it’s not the computer system that makes a good or bad intelligence analyst.

“Analysts SHOULDN’T be expected to know how to do this.”

That would be the apathy and lack of initiative on the part of analysts that I mentioned earlier. Are you suggesting that intelligence analysts are incapable of performing their work under less than ideal conditions?

“No, I got an 80 hour class and that’s it. I had to learn as I worked. My first unit didn’t have it’s own SIPR connections anywhere, so we had to request space in other units SCIFs. As far as SGT’s time, when that was done it was focused on the annual “basic soldier skills” we had to do.”

So you went downrange without ever practicing on a critical system for doing your job. How is this a problem with your computer system rather than your unit for neglecting the training of their analytical personnel on that computer system? Seems to me that you’re redirecting a lot of blame that should go towards your officer and NCO leadership. Of course it’s easier to blame an imperfect and impersonal computer than to say that your unit basically blew off training because they thought the job should be easy and performed only under optimal conditions. It’s also misdirected.

I’ll also say that the reason the unit I’m working with has been successful on DCGS is less because of any efforts on my part than because the NCOs and officers of this unit put a strong emphasis on their personnel working with DCGS in garrison and made it a priority for their people to learn it *before* they deployed. As the old saying goes “You train as you fight”…when units do relevant, useful training their people usually succeed, whether with DCGS, ASAS or Palantir. When they don’t, they usually fail…whether with DCGS, ASAS or Palantir. The unit’s attitude towards readiness while back home is what sets their people up for success or failure…not any particular piece of technology that they use. This unit succeeded because they invested their tima and effort in setting their people up for success.

Failure to back up data is one of the biggest issues I encounter working with soldiers on DCGS. It’s a primary rule of working with computers…back up your files in case your system crashes so you don’t lose your work. Unfortunately, users still fail to do so (a problem certainly not restricted to military users or DCGS). And of course, it’s always the computer system’s fault when they forget to do that. :)

I agree with you about ease of use being a plus because the soldiers should be doing the analysis rather than fighting the system. The problem I’ve seen over the last few years of training soldiers is that units have really tossed specific job skills training to the side, so what you’re seeing is intelligence analysts undertrained to perform analysis outsourcing blame to the system when it’s really an issue with not putting in much time learning their jobs until they deploy. The unit I currently work with put an emphasis on training both job skills and system skills before deployment, so dealing with the inevitable problems downrange wasn’t that bad for them. They aren’t in love with every aspect of DCGS (they like ArcGIS, Google Earth and QueryTree, but prefer Palantir over MFWS) but they’re able to do everything they need to do on it to accomplish their missions.

When you have a bunch of poorly trained or inexperienced analysts, however (which I’ve seen at a lot of units I’ve worked with) and then toss them onto a system on which they have no practical experience prior to deployment, of course they’re going to struggle with it. Same as any soldier would if their unit didn’t make training on jobs and equipment a priority. It’s not the equipment to blame in that case…and I think DCGS is often being made a scapegoat for a problem units have with providing quality training to their personnel. It’s a problem that’s probably inevitable after a war that’s run this long.

As a small business owner, I can relate to this problem. Programs that are advertised as “powerful” usually have too many options, and are too difficult to learn, to be useful sometimes. I just need programs that are simple enough to use out of the box without loads of little used options on innumerable pull down menus. I don’t want to have to get a masters degree in the program to use it. That’s why many programs have a “get started quickly” option these days I think.

I am a current DCGS-A instructor. I keep this short and sweet. First, the system does have a lot of tools. The thing is to find the ones that are for your unit and learn them, train on them. How often does an 11B train on weapons and squad level tactics? only 80 hours? Second, DCGS-A like any other software has some issues especially when talking server based and required connectivity, however, work can still be done offline to create products for missions. The truth here is that training must be critical to the leadership. You show me a percentage for on a consistent basis how many Soldiers can pick up an M4 only once a year for one day of zero and qualification and fire expert. As a former training NCO for a non combat arms unit I can tell the answer is not 100%. You tracking? Train. become a “T”, then train some more.

At my place of employment we have the same issues with our software. After the first year of use it was realized that it sucked but there was too much money invested and those in charge didn’t want to lose face. Of course, they themselves have never, and will never use the programs they loved so much. It’s not the military but a hospital though. More tax dollars fizzed down the drain.

There will always be some problems with Intel. I experience with gathered intel, it was always only about 45% accurate, and thats pushing it. I’am NOT saying it’s a bad thing, all I’am saying is we should act on it as soon as we get it.

“What is today, may not be so tomorrow”

And speaking of bugs, if they can “work” the bugs out of the Osprey, they can work the bugs out of the DCGS. You won’t know theres a problem with it until you try it out.

Absolutely. Training with a computer system is no different than training with a rifle or any other piece of equipment. If you want to be proficient, you have to practice…if you aren’t willing to practice, you’ll probably fail. Most of the units that I’ve seen that struggle with their intelligence analysis aren’t having problems with a bad computer system…they’re having issues because their units put little time into training them to do their jobs. I’ve watched it with DCGS and I’ve watched it in other jobs where I trained soldiers had to evaluate intelligence sections’ performances at NTC, JRTC and JMRC. Units that have done training with their people on DCGS prior to deployment have done well with the system…units that haven’t have generally not only struggled with DCGS, but struggled to put out quality analysis overall. There are a lot of “analysts” out there who like Palantir because it’s simple to use and it masks that they don’t put much effort into their work. That’s not a knock on Palantir at all…because it’s a good program. But there’s still a lot that DCGS can do that Palantir can’t, and if the analysts who were interviewed in the article can’t figure out MFWS (a program I’ve taught infantrymen with no previous intel training to use successfully), perhaps the real problem is that the unit hasn’t developed very capable analysts.

Army IT requires an IDEF functional model (very expensive), using Army-developed programming language (few programmers and not programmer friendly), and has no user interface architecture/standards.

The net result is basically systems that look like the 1950s.

It would save lots of money and time if they just went with C++ and simply copied Apple’s interface standards (GUI).

But the old folks just can’t let go.

Here’s a thought. We used to use grease pencils to mark up maps and to give briefings. Then we went out and actually killed the enemy. But you don’t understand old timer. This is a different war. Yep, sure is. Now you have to get permission from the Pentagon or the Oval Office to load a weapon and do not even consider firing until you get a Mother May I. All those computers. All those tactical assessments. All those command briefings and getting a consensus to send up to the next level and perhaps at some point a decision and maybe the enemy will still be waiting in place.

While we sit in bunkers that are climate controlled to protect the computers and reach nice, clean, typed, signed, and documented decisions, real enemies with real guns are doing real damage. It makes me shake my head in wonder.

It has drastically improved from what it was 5 years ago and I know that the developers/support guys are trying really hard to make it more user-friendly. I share the same opinion as most of these guys in that the system has never been intuitive, but I also know that the practice required to stay up to date is the biggest problem. Our bigger problem in my last unit was the amount of time that it took to get it properly integrated into the network. By the time that was finally figured out with our one available contractor and the 35T’s and S6 guys, we were way behind and did not get the training value from actual execution. I heard that it was supposed to fully integrate into CPOF and other systems, but apparently that hurdle was a huge issue for all of our network smart guys. The sequester cut our contract support down to one guy for an entire Regiment, the 35T’s were trained in DCGS but there were only 2 (by MTOE!) of them. So I see the bigger problem ahead is dealing with less contract support and few 35T’s by MTOE in order to get it running and connected in the first place. I told the guys at Huachuca about this issue and they understood, but it was out of their hands to fix this part of the problem. If the developers could at LEAST get it mostly stable and the main programs easier to use, then the proficiency will follow. In 3 1/2 years at my old unit, the attempts were made but proficiency in more than a couple guys eluded us. Still, I worry far more about getting them properly integrated into the network infrastructure and maintained than the actual usage by the 35F or GEOINT guys.

This talk takes me back to my combat arms days. Perhaps the problem isn’t DCGS but instead “Operator, Headspace and Timing” as we used to say as grunts on the M2 range. I’ve yet to find an issue with PM provided systems when applying them against direct support requirements. However I have experienced network constraints. This leads me to believe we should focus efforts on establishing a truly federated geospatial network which would allow each element to host their respective piece versus the world which is obviously too much for any system in creation including DCGS. Just my thoughts.


CW2℗ Augustus Wright
Geospatial Engineer Tech
60th GPC/66th MI GEOINT
Darmstadt, Germany APO AE 09096
DSN: 314–347-3692




reminds me when we were given Hawkeye computers right before we went over the berm during Desert Storm. My section NCOIC wanted to know what to do with them. I told him to throw them in the HMET and turn them in when the shooting is over. We had no time to train on them and no one to tell us how.

I couldn’t agree more with the article. I recently returned from Afghanistan after a year as a contracted intel analyst in an Infantry battalion. We used Palantir, GVS (“Google SIPR”) and Powerpoint. Our DCGS-A workstations remained in the CONEX the entire deployment. I was amazed, at least initially, with all the visitors who came to our base and asked us how we were using DCGS-A! They were even more amazed at the reality of learning that we NEVER used it, …no doubt the direct result of folks in the rear briefing that “everyone’s using DCGS-A” — which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Everyone needs to remember that DCGS-A is the conglomeration of 11 different Programs of Record (POR), one of which was the ill-fated “ASAS” (later renamed “ACE-Block II” — same technology different name). ASAS and ACE Block II were turned off at the LD (Line of Departure) four wars in a war. Now five wars in a row with OEF. When is the MI Corps going to admit DCGS-A with its over 5,700 documented tasks that it must perform is not good for the battlefield. DCGS-A belongs in another Century, .. and not the next one.


One word, adaptability. Palantir has a open API and has an awesome database technology. Look at MWFS and compare it to Palantir. https://​github​.com is used by the U.S. government to share API for mainly data services, and many commercial companies do the same. Palantir appears to be on there to with their API. MWFS is a failure and 95% of people who have used it will tell you the same, including me. Doesn’t that say something about the technology? Call up all Army Brigades and Divisions in Afghanistan and tell me how many are using MFWS? DCGS is much bigger than what Palantir does. DCGS has failed at providing the technology needed to do what Palantir does and to see them continuing to fight against it only boils down to politics and corruption. How many Generals and Colones are invested in companies that design software DCGS uses?

In your day to day life,
Do you log on to a computer every day?
Do you pick up a weapon every day?

Train is the answer and train some more.

You can’t tell me government contracts aren’t rigged. Look at this article. Every intel soldier from every corner of Afghanistan is saying the same thing that the system is broken. It does not work. The only one who keeps touting its praises is Brig. Gen. Christopher Ballard. Hummmmm.… very curious. The emperor has no clothes people! Even a child could tell you that, but no one will listen.

Training is not the issue. When an 11B picks up a gun to fight or train he expects it to fire. DCGS-A, specifically MFWS does not work. Every DCGS station is down an average of 3–5 days a month. That’s an eternity during deployment. DCGS employees sit smug and safely in their offices and blame other people in other departments outside of the building or on other bases. Most DCGS employees that I’ve met while deployed in Afghanistan cannot operate the basics of Microsoft Windows, much less understand how DCGS is slowing the system down or how much RAM is required to run the program. The TED is a big conglomerate of lines and points so massive that it does no one any good. Nodes in the network are repeated often times with wrong information. DCGS is an embarrassment to any tax payer. I dare anyone who as deployed to tell me different.

As quoted in the article, “we spend our time working on physical/person security and using Microsoft PowerPoint.”

I can’t speak on behalf of your unit but the unit I’m with simply do not have the personnel, nor experience to work with DCGS with all the other responsibilities 35F’s have in garrison.

As for you talking about not using it because we’re unskilled, downrange, I was unable to use the DCGS and that is with DCGS support trying to resolve the problem. My chain of command continued to push for support but the support were never able to get the system up and running.


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