Army: DCGS Competition Planned for 2016

Army: DCGS Competition Planned for 2016

The U.S. Army plans to hold a competition in fiscal 2016 to develop the next phase of its controversial battlefield intelligence system.

The service on Wednesday released the first of what is expected to be several requests for information, or RfIs, from companies for assessments on how to build the so-called Distributed Common Ground System Increment 2, according to a press release.

“This RFI — in conjunction with a series of planned industry days — will solicit vendor feedback on ways to improve and replace the software-based tools soldiers use to analyze and integrate data and visualize intelligence information,” it states. “Today’s announcement builds upon ongoing efforts to address well-publicized soldiers concerns regarding the existing DCGS-A system’s ‘ease of use’ in the field.”

Army units in Afghanistan have repeatedly complained that the multi-billion-dollar, military-wide system is complicated, unreliable and difficult to use, prompting many of them to rely on commercial software instead. Last year, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, and Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno debated the issue after the lawmaker asked why troops weren’t getting a commercial product called Palantir as requested.

During a presentation last year at Fort Belvoir, Va., Army officials said DCGS 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 in Afghanistan have said they only use a fraction of the system’s applications in part because soldiers in the field prefer other, more intuitive software for various missions.

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

Meanwhile, Marines and Special Operations forces have also embraced the software made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. The company was founded in 2004 with seed money from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The firm, which has done demonstrations for the Army but isn’t a contractor on the DCGS program, is expected to reply to the Army’s RfI and eventually compete to upgrade the 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 technology persist.

The Army reportedly withdrew the system from a major network test this fall because of “continued significant software incident reports,” and “overall network operational readiness issues,” according to an Associated Press article that cited a July 15 memo signed by Gen. John Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff who will take over as the top commander in Afghanistan later this month.

The Army is considering a shift in acquisition strategy in which a contractor rather than the service acts as the prime integrator of the system’s components, according to the solicitation. A so-called industry day, in which the service discusses with potential bidders the planned competition in more detail, is planned for early next year.

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“Across the military, the Distributed Common Ground System is estimated to cost at least $10.6 billion”

Can anyone here point to even one single example of a large modern federal or DoD software project that actually came in on time, on budget, and functioned to spec? Because I’m drawing a total blank.

ATACMS was done on 2 fixed price contracts and was fielded just in time for the First Gulf War, where 32 missiles were fired. It was about $700M in R&D over the four years of development, and over $6B in procurement — still being produced. The key: use maturing technologies with active government-industry team involvement. Was software intensive, but not on the scale of DCGS-A. Software is almost always extremely difficult to bring in on time of course, even for Microsoft…

“Software is almost always extremely difficult to bring in on time of course, even for Microsoft…”

Because to DoD Procurement “software” is voodoo and they have no concept of what a market price is…so the vendor says it will cost a few billion and they shrug and say “ok”. Same with almost every other big ticket item the military spends money on. Without a reference for a “equivalent market price” for a given item they WAY overspend.

Given the performance of DCGS at a recent rotation we had, it’s a piece of junk. And for $10.6 BILLION!!!!! someone should be in jail for that.

The problem lies in multifunctionality: ATACMS is comparatively simple: a (generally) single mission system: ballistic rocket artillery with terminal maneuver.

Now go to something truly multifunctional and look at all the complexities each function adds, then the cost to integrate those into one system and have them talk/handshake with each other for successful operation at all times (or at least, for the duration of the mission requirements).
(…I’ll refrain from snide comments pertaining to defense contractor mark ups to satiate the quarterly return hunger pangs of the shareholders…)

Folks ever remember when we were told that computers would make everything easier?
Still waiting.

Funny how you wrote that on a computer and sent it instantly to a blog on the internet. Gee, when will computers make your life better?

We pay them extra to f up, have problems, and drag out the development of that software, and then you complain when they do. Kinda sounds like we’re giving these companies a mixed message, doesn’t it?

Didn’t JIEDDO deliver on time and hit specs? Not sure on the cost, as it was an urgent operational need, but it was pretty impressive what was accomplished there in such a short time with an asymmetric threat.

JIEDDO=Joke, They stole from other people to get there results and got caught red handed several times. JIEDDO like most information conduits are trying to digest archival data to make a “new” product so they can stay employed at the cost of soldiers. I watched them rebrand my product as there own, Luckily the 2 star assigned to the battle space called BS to them.…..

Supporting orgs like JIEDDO exist because the services have no clue on what they want. Rather than try and solve the problem, and added layer of bureaucracy is formed that can blame everyone for not supporting their pet projects while wasting billions.

More on topic, the reason why DoD orgs are afraid of software is because they don’t invest in actually learning what the products are. The old attitude at the great pillar of acquisition excellence at Hanscom AFB was that all you needed was a contracting officer and a program manager on the government side. Let the developer provide the expertise and tell the government what they are getting rather than the other way around.

All of this discussion about software if very nice but irrelevant if the opposition simply makes the sky white with electrons when it’s showtime so that no one can use the electromagnetic spectrum — not even to change the channels on their TV’s. (EMP(aNADAs) anyone?)

Google polls thousands of disparate systems and returns information in “popularity” order. I’m sure it can sort information in other ways. It is used in intelligence now. It is weak in some areas and returns some bizarre or inaccurate images when an image search is performed. It is truly multifunctional, however. Most government agencies are ill-equiped to specify and manage an IT contract. Most senior DOD managers add on everything they can think of instead of relying upon subject matter experts. Then there is the embarrassment/NMH syndrome. Troops in the field prefer a program created under the financial auspices of the CIA?! OMG! And we talk about the benefits of off-the-shelf acquisitions. We ought to sole-source Palantir and carefully select add-ons with the help of a qualified expert outfit like MITRE. If you want to succeed, keep generals and other civilian job-seekers out of the specification and acquisition process.

Remind me. How is that government sell off of EM going?

Some of those civilians are the actual end users of the IT system being procured. Cutting them out of the acquisition process results in improperly specified hardware and software in many cases,

DCGS sucks because of all the things it has to do, and all the ways the army rules make them almost incapable of talking to each other for nominally security reasons and the like.

Palantir looks nice, but it’s like a movie facade — pretty on the front, not much behind it.

If Palantir was required to do what DCGS already does, I have no doubt it would suck too.

Moral of the story is that the systems requirements for this thing are so ridiculous that they are effectively impossible to meet.

The Army’s continued use of a Weapon Systems Acquisition Process, developed and supported by FFRDCs, violates both the Clinger Cohen Act as well as the 2010 NDAA Section 804 directing DoD to apply an Agile Acquisition Framework tuned for the fasted paced IT market. Worse, is that Army leadership continues to rely on conflicted FFRDC resources like Mitre who is responsible for system design and engineering of nearly all failed DoD IT programs.

MITRE qualified? That’s a joke, right?

Apparently you’ve never tried to custom “modify” a proprietary, commercial product like Palantir.

Your question is a red herring. It’s all about defining the specifications up front before you go out for bids. Program Managers and the customers are trying to define the specifications, most often times, many, many years ahead of time. Adversaries change, geo-political conditions change. Military capabilities of our foes change. The USA political leadership changes. At the same time, there’s a give-and-take on cost vs. capability. You can’t have a do all, be all weapons system. Can you spec out TODAY a top notch personal automobile that I can and other people will buy in 2024? Of course you can’t.

the palantir system costs about 200k for all the software and hardware (yea you have to buy their hardware) + it takes an army of palantir contractors to help a client run their system full-time. and it only does one thing draw graphs and do some simple graph analysis… it’s a shame the taxpayers created palantir as a company and funded their product only to get ripped a new one in terms of cost per client system… this is definitely not capitalism or the free market.

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