Judge: US Army Must Let Palantir Compete to Build Combat Data System

A photo illustration of the Cyber Squadron Initiative program Oct. 28, 2016.

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A photo illustration of the Cyber Squadron Initiative program Oct. 28, 2016.

The much-maligned DCGS-A combat data system program is put on hold, thanks to a Silicon Valley company's lawsuit.

Silicon Valley technology company Palantir will get a second chance to provide the Army’s data intelligence and distribution system, which could determine the way operators across the military share and use data during operations. Palantir supporters argue that their system will be much easier and intuitive for operators to use intelligence. But some in the military have argued that Silicon Valley’s solution to the data-sharing problem doesn’t meet all of their needs.

The Army did not properly consider whether commercial software could perform better than the military’s expensive Distributed Common Ground System-Army, or DCGS-A, a judge ruled on Monday.

In December 2015, the Army put out a request for vendors to help create the latest iteration of the data intelligence system, DCGS-A2. Palantir went to the Government Accountability Office claiming that the requirements effectively shut them out of the competition. When they lost their GAO appeal, they sued for an injunction.

DCGS-A is a kluge of different pieces of software, some commercial, such as IBM’s i2 Analyst Notebook, ESRI maps, and some created by the military. Palantir makes a product called Gotham that they claim does the same job more reliably, easily, and at less cost.

“Palantir has developed a technology that solves the needs of DCGS. That technology has been successfully used by Army units and by numerous military and intelligence agencies. Army commanders in the field have repeatedly asked for Palantir’s product to solve the needs DCGS is supposed to solve. Yet the Army has now issued a solicitation that makes it impossible for Palantir to compete for the new DCGS contract. That is irrational. It also directly violates the law,” says the lawsuit.

The ruling from U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Marian Blank Horn, imposes an injunction on the Army’s request, according to Bloomberg  .

The argument for DCGS is that Palantir doesn’t do all that DCGS can do. It may take more training to learn how to use, and the map layers may crap out, but the variety of capabilities and different data sources that it can handle is beyond what Palantir can handle.

DCGS-A has its defenders in the military, such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno , who can be seen in this video shouting at Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a longtime critic of the program. The screaming starts around the two-hour mark.

But operators, particularly in the Special Operations community, gave Palantir high marks over DCGS. In July, one analyst called DCGS “slow-loading trash that’s not easy to use.”

Hunter has long been a critic of the entire DCGS program. “From the start, this was always more than just a contracting fight. Soldiers in combat have repeatedly requested an off-the-shelf alternative that they assert saves lives. In one instance, a commander of a major division called it a matter of life and limb. The fact that this technology has been repeatedly denied and actively discredited is an example of bureaucracy at its worst,” Hunter said Monday.

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