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Army may work with Palantir on intel software

Jan. 3, 2013 - 07:02AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 3, 2013 - 07:02AM  |  
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Officials behind the Army's embattled intelligence processing software say they are willing to work with a rival off-the-shelf system to provide soldiers with an all-encompassing "best of breed" system.

Elements of Palantir's off-the-shelf intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination software, which has had success anticipating locations of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, could make it into a future version of Distributed Command Ground System, senior Army officials said in a Dec. 20 call with reporters.

"They had a number of technologies that are of interest to us," said Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Army's deputy for acquisition and systems management. "[We liked their] ease of use, their ability to make links between data elements and their ability to work in a disconnected and limited [communications] environment where we don't have a lot of bandwidth."

The message may represent an olive branch in a digital age dust-up over which software system the Army should use. Both DCGS and Palantir are designed to mine government databases and sensor data to draw links and visualize patterns within insurgent and terrorist networks.

It's become a key issue for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and several members of the House Armed Services Committee, who argue that Army bureaucrats have stifled requests for Palantir from units downrange and suppressed reports that favor the company's product.

In 2012, the Army Test and Evaluation Command found that there were significant reliability issues with DCGS, and said that it was only "effective with significant limitations, not suitable and not survivable." In evaluations, soldiers have also complained that the system is too complicated and takes too long to train soldiers to use.

As DCGS has struggled and the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased, 13 brigade combat teams have requested the Palantir IED mapping software. Nine received the capability.

The new software has created controversy among service acquisition leadership, which is committed to DCGS and has bristled at some units acting outside of the traditional acquisition process to access Palantir.

However, DCGS-A's prime position was cemented Dec. 14, when Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, gave the green light for a full deployment decision. It had been fielded on a limited basis to Iraq and Afghanistan as a "quick-reaction capability."

The Army plans to field a scaled-down version of DCGS-A that will not include a top-secret/sensitive compartmented information capability. Existing intelligence systems will continue to fill that role until an upgraded system is deployed, Army officials said.

Greene characterized the TS/SCI failures as being with the "work flows," particularly when it comes to the top-secret domain and the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network domain working together.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Ford, an intelligence analyst with the 101st Airborne Division, said in a recent exercise that he was able to pass top-secret information from another system to DCGS-A without problems, with help from the program office.

"The interface from the older version to the newer version is a lot more user-friendly for our analysts," Ford said.

Maj. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty, commander of Army Intelligence and Security Command, endorsed DCGS-A as "an Army intelligence analyst's weapons system," used effectively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and he provided a rationale for the apprehension over Palantir.

DCGS-A was developed to replace nine "stove-piped" and proprietary intelligence processing tools that could not communicate with one another, and is prized for interoperability with the other services, and multinational and interagency partners, Fogarty said.

"Any solution that uses a proprietary format, whether it's a collection sensor or a piece of software that inhibits complete sharing of data, that's a red line for me," he said.

Fogarty conceded that brigades that may be using Palantir are doing so side by side with DCGS-A because their analysts prefer its ease of use, visualization and link analysis. But, he said, he's "concerned that we can have gaps or seams develop between units that are using a tool that does not share information as seamlessly as the entire DCGS suite allows me to."

Greene suggested some middle ground may emerge.

In May, the Army signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to explore integration of Palantir technology in the DCGS, and the company is one of six bidders selected to work on possible upgrades to the Army's intelligence-gathering software systems.

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