The U.S. Army’s top officer sought to clarify a long-simmering dispute with a lawmaker over battlefield intelligence programs in simple terms.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., got into a heated exchange last month during a hearing on Capitol Hill. Hunter, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, criticized the Army’s intelligence-gathering program called the Distributed Common Ground System and questioned why a commander who requested a commercial product made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. never received it.
Odierno during a May 7 breakfast with reporters drew a distinction between the two systems by holding up an attendee’s iPhone.
“DCGS-A is this iPhone,” he said, referring to the service’s acronym for the intelligence-gathering system. “Palantir is an app,” he said, referring to the commercial software application. “The argument is, he thinks Palantir should be considered to take over for all of DCGS-A,” he said. “We want it to be an app. He wants it to be the whole system.”
The Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced “dee-sigs”), is an intelligence database that draws from some 600 sources, from humans to airborne and ground sensors. The Palantir software is a link-analysis program. The two aren’t necessarily incompatible.
The Army plans to spend $10.2 billion over the next three decades on the system, Odierno has said.
The system, Odierno said at the breakfast, “works pretty damn good and has about 100 apps that work very, very well, so I’m not going to throw all that away because of one app,” he said. “And that one app, by the way, is not interoperable with all the other apps right now, so that’s the problem.”
Odierno said he has discussed the issue with Hunter “numerous times” over the past year and a half and invited him to a demonstration of the Distributed Common Ground System.
The general and the lawmaker last discussed the issue in February 2012, when Hunter contacted Odierno about an urgent request from Afghanistan to fill a gap in the performance of DCGS, particularly in tracking road-side bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, according to Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Hunter.
The next conversation Hunter had with senior Army leadership was a day before the April 25 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, when Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell visited “and the takeaway from that meeting was that there’s still a lot that needs to be resolved,” Kasper said in an e-mail.
“Mr. Hunter’s point is that Army ground combat units have been asking for alternative technology to fill capability gaps in DCGS,” he said. “This idea of comparing an app to an iPhone is limited to the way the Army is trying to use alternative products when the reality is that other products—if integrated—appear capable of upstaging the Army’s program of record.”
The software request came from the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., which is serving in Afghanistan, Kasper has said. 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. Three days later, the request was withdrawn.
The product is used by various military branches and commands, including the Marine Corps.
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.”