Army still catching flak for tactical intell system

Despite the Army's recent efforts to make improvements, a former DIA chief says the service should move away from the current version of DCGS-A.

The Army’s embattled tactical intelligence system is still taking heat from some military officials, despite the service’s efforts to improve the system—known as the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, or DCGS-A—and make it easier to use.

The latest salvo comes from Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, long a critic of DCGS-A, who told the Washington Times that the Army needs to come up with a 2.0 version of the system and should probably rename it because of its unpopularity.

“Here we are in 2016 and we are still forcing a capability down the throats of our military units, special and conventional forces that requires way, way too much training and basically contract support,” Flynn told the paper.

The DCGS program, which dates to 1998, is intended to provide an interoperable suite of tools for collecting and sharing intelligence in the field. The Air Force and Navy also have their own versions of DCGS, which is estimated to have a total price tag of $10 billion. But DCGS has run into resistance from Army commanders and soldiers.

In a memo from November 2013, soldiers complained about the system’s complexity and unreliability, as well as a lack of training, saying they instead opted for commercial tools with capabilities similar to those in DCGS-A, such as ArcGIS and, particularly, Palantir, an intelligence software that has a lot of supporters within the military, including the Marines and special forces.

Flynn, a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was among those supporting Palantir, going back to at least 2010, when he was the top intelligence official in Afghanistan. Other Defense Department officials have countered that the commercial software couldn’t handle large data sets as DCGS could or interoperate with other military intelligence databases—and, as Wired reported in 2012, accused Flynn of working with Palantir to drum up business.  

Army officials have admitted that DCGS-A’s complexity can make it difficult to use and said they are working to make the system more user-friendly while also working on a new iteration. In late 2014, the service began issuing a series of solicitations for DCGS-A Increment 2, which is intended to expand its capabilities for intelligence gathering, analysis and sharing, while allowing it to work with the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise.

Meanwhile, the Army has been addressing the ease-of-use question, trying to make the system more intuitive through a series of tests and exercises, hand forming tactical engagement teams of subject matter experts to help train users on different aspects of DCGS-A.

Each tactical engagement team, or TeT, tailors its training to a unit’s specific needs, while following a set of basic principle for teaching units to best make use of the system.

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