Before recently deploying to Afghanistan, a U.S. Army brigade warned the service’s own intelligence center that the battlefield intelligence system doesn’t work.
The 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team more than a year ago submitted a report criticizing the Army’s version of the so-called Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced “dee-sigs”) to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence.
“DCGS-A does not provide the functionality needed by deployed intelligence Soldiers,” according to the document, a copy of which was obtained by Military.com.
The report was written in late January 2013, after the brigade returned from a previous deployment to Afghanistan during which 10 of its soldiers were killed, including the command sergeant major.
Less than four months later, Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, defended the intelligence system during a demonstration of the technology at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“It provides the underlying intelligence for every decision that our commanders and soldiers make in the field and it saves lives,” she said at the time.
The report, prepared by Gabriel Martinez and Jeremy Godfrey, who were identified as collectors of lessons learned for the intelligence center, contained many of the same criticisms that other units in Afghanistan would later echo, namely that the technology is complicated to use and unreliable.
For example, the system’s so-called multi-function work station “did not assist unit analysts with intelligence fusion” and was “prone to crashing,” its tactical entity database “was unstable and labor intensive,” and because of the bandwidth requirement, “several battalion level organizations were unable to use the system effectively,” the document states.
It concluded, “At this time, DCGS-A is not an enterprise system capable of replacing the Army’s multiple intelligence ground processing systems.”
The report is the latest internal assessment that’s likely to fuel debate on Capitol Hill. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has argued with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno over why the Army remains committed to the acquisition program at the exclusion of potential commercial alternatives.
Foreign Policy last week reported that the Pentagon’s acquisition arm is withholding a report that concluded the Army was wrong to dismiss software made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. The software, it reportedly states, can meet many of the service’s intelligence needs.
The Army brigade returned to Afghanistan earlier this month with the existing intelligence system.
Soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division and its subordinate units in Afghanistan, as well as those in Kuwait and at Fort Carson, Colo., are using “every tool” available for intelligence collection, including the Distributed Common Ground System – Army, which is their primary resource, according to Col. Mike Mammay, who’s serving with the division in Kandahar in Regional Command – South.
“Intelligence enabled by DCGS-A facilitates situational understanding, reduces uncertainty, mitigates operational risk and supports decision-making — it is a critical tool used by our Military Intelligence Soldiers,” he said in an e-mail to Military.com.
(Story was updated to include comments from Army colonel in the last two paragraphs.)
Associate Editor Brendan McGarry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.