Distributed common ground system comes under fire

The Army Test and Evaluation Command finds that the services’ integrated ISR system is flawed, with each service confronting its own set of challenges.

When the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) was first initiated in 1998, the Pentagon envisioned an integrated and interoperable family of systems that would enable DOD users from across the military services to share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data. Today, the concept of seamless, real-time, multiservice ISR sharing remains a top goal for the Air Force, Army and Navy, each with their own version of DCGS.

It’s tough enough for the three services to separately access disparate data sets from different collection platforms, sensors and intelligence sources. However, the DCGS technical challenges are even tougher when sharing ISR data among defense organizations.

“Technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s very difficult to keep pace with all the different systems, data formats, collection platforms, amounts of data, and complexity of exploitation - the challenges are huge,” said Col. Michael Shields, chief of the capabilities division at the Air Force ISR Agency’s directorate of plans, programs, requirements and assessments.

The DCGS Integration Backbone (DIB), with its common enterprise services and open architecture standards, is designed to help interconnect previously stove-piped ISR systems, enabling intelligence to be identified, tagged and shared. The DIB provides a framework to enable the construction of cloud services, such as Platform as a Service, so all of DOD’s DCGS users can discover and retrieve information from a wide range of distributed sources.

In March, the DCGS Multi-Service Execution Team (MET) Office released DIB v4.0, which enables the rapid integration of new data sources and formats by providing a flexible and extensible Distributed Data Framework (DDF). Developed by Lockheed Martin, DDF uses open source software, providing the flexibility, modularity, and standardization for integrating new data sources, data transformation services, and user interfaces into the DIB.

“We’re leveraging current technology,” said John Murphy, C4ISR systems advanced development team lead for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions-Defense. “It used to be you could only query by the DIB interface. But, now, it’s easy to extend it to support other query interfaces and make the DIB accessible.”

The DCGS MET Office in June awarded Lockheed Martin a $2.6 million contract to further upgrade the DIB. With the availability of DIB v4.x in 2013, new data sources will be exposed to the DIB even faster, without having to modify the core software.

Shields said that maintaining consistency and compatibility with the DIB is critical for DCGS-Air Force. As the service fields newer baselines of DCGS-AF, the Air Force needs to keep up with the latest version of the DIB, he said.

“Nobody cares if we pull down some intelligence and one of our analysts knows it,” said Shields. “We’ve got to communicate that [to others], and the way that we’re going to be doing that in the future is through the DIB.”

Army has own challenges

While inter-service intelligence sharing is improving, the Army is facing its own DCGS intra-service challenges. Despite spending more than $2.3 billion on DCGS-Army, according to the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), the system is “effective with significant limitations, not suitable, and not survivable.”

An August 1 e-mail memo from ATEC commander Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco to Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, first obtained by the Washington Times, found DCGS-A to be a system with “poor reliability.” The issues observed by ATEC included “server failures that resulted in reboots/restarts recorded every 5.5 hours of test” and “TS/SCI enclave workstation operators experienced a failure every 10.8 hours of active usage.”

Dellarocco noted that DCGS-A’s “hardware and software ‘ease of use’ characteristics negatively impacted operator confidence and increased their frustration” with multiple open screens that were “required to complete a single task” and caused “workstation freeze-ups.” ATEC also reported that network vulnerabilities for DCGS-A Software Baseline (DSB) 1.0, which is slated for a full deployment decision this fall.

“Many of these limitations were already identified by the Army, and software updates have been implemented to address the concerns,” said LTC Freddie Mack, an Army spokesman. “The version of DCGS-A identified in this test is undergoing improvement in a constantly evolving process.”

The Army has a lot invested in the DCGS-A system, both financially and technologically, and it’s important that the service get it right, said Alexander Rossino, a Deltek research analyst.

“DCGS-A is an exceptionally complicated system that integrates multiple Army tactical systems,” added Rossino. “Revealing these problem areas is exactly the reason for these tests, so the Army is doing its due diligence as far as the DCGS-A’s software baseline is concerned.”

Even with the Army’s DCGS setbacks, the Navy continues to lag behind the Air Force and Army in developing and deploying its version of DCGS. DCGS-Navy Increment 1 is being deployed through fiscal 2015.

Starting in fiscal 2016, DCGS-N Increment 2 will be hosted as software within the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES), the Navy’s next-generation tactical shipboard network. DCGS-N Increment 2 seeks to converge afloat and ashore ISR while addressing current capability gaps, including the ability to process, exploit and disseminate sensor data from the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance and Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike aircraft and P-8 manned aircraft.