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Army Chief Compares Intel Database to iPhone

by Brendan McGarry on May 7, 2013

Odierno UCPThe 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.”

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Josh May 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

So it's slow and inferior?

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Bob May 7, 2013 at 7:02 pm

There's the problem, should have been an Android, or maybe a Blackberry 10.

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Israel May 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm
wpnexp May 8, 2013 at 5:58 am

Sounds pretty simple, either buy both systems, or see if the software can be adapted to meet DCGS-A software. Witchever idea is more cost effective would be the way to go. Palantir is not going to replace DCGS-A, and appears to function mainly in an IED or terror network role, which is only a small part of battlefield intelligence anyway. I doubt using both will upset any apple carts really.

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blight_ May 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

DCGS-A will probably make managing inputs to Palantir easier. And in the long run, simplifies the ISR problem with common standards of communication.

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billw917 May 8, 2013 at 10:20 am

If they're talking about Palantir, don't get too excited. It is a complicated program and can easily tangle things up. You would need an IT specialist on the battlefield with you.

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blight_ May 8, 2013 at 11:44 am

It's probably cloud-based, so you'll be uploading data and waiting for Palantir to crunch before it's actionable. It's not like the Army is running (or even writing!) R or MATLAB scripts on the battlefield with still-warm intelligence; which would indeed require that "IT specialist".

And for those unfamiliar with Palantir:
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/palantir-the

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John May 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

The general doesn't looked impressed :)

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blight_ May 8, 2013 at 11:23 am

“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 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.

———
Palantir's tool is designed to analyze people based on inputs from a variety of sources. DCGS is designed to unify data from multiple sources, but I'm not sure if it's coupled to an analytical engine. Theoretically, DCGS could pipe output to Palantir, or we could continue using a hodgepodge of systems collecting output and feed it all to Palantir and let Palantir handle it.

The comparison to the iPhone is incorrect. If anything, it's more like comparing it to a surveillance camera control system, which collects digital data from a variety of platforms (eg, multiple cameras), whereas Palantir is the software that decides "what to do" about the data collected.

If we have to reduce things to such absurd levels of analogy…

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SFC Sanchez(RET) May 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

Palantir's software should be adaptable to integrate other DCGS systems or software.
The main problem for DCGS on the forward battlefield area is the availability to integrate and relay the information with current system. The higher command needs to communicate with DOD and Defense company, how to find a proper communication system, that can not only function in various terrain and environment, but relay the information down to the squad level. Having all the data in your hand is useless if you can't get it to the right personal and in time.

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Dr Ed May 9, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Palantir is largest contributer to Rep Hunters election campaign finance committee.

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moe May 18, 2013 at 12:47 am
moe May 18, 2013 at 12:48 am
Drew May 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Just looking at the title, my first thought was, "How much adWare is in the Intel Database?"

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Joshua May 23, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I love the whiny industry shills… losers.

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Jubal Biggs September 30, 2013 at 6:05 pm

God I love having actual vets in Congress. Especially former enlisted (not sure about Hunter, but he sounds like it). That has to be making a bunch of pampered Pentagon goats soiling themselves in terror.

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blight_ May 8, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Exciting how we're cheaping out on training so it looks like we can't operate it, thus requiring "contractors" to do the job.

That said, it's ambitious to combine new hardware and new software together. Coding something to run on COTS HPC is in itself a bundle of work, but a separate team working on hardware and separate team working on software and then integrating the two is bound to run into a bunch of bugs every step of the way.

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moe May 18, 2013 at 12:59 am
moe May 18, 2013 at 1:00 am
the moe May 18, 2013 at 1:01 am
the moe May 18, 2013 at 1:02 am
Former Soldier May 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm

It isnt about "cheaping out" on training to justify contractor jobs. Contractor analyst barely make up %1 of the intelligence analyst downrange. It's DoD budget cuts due to sequestration among other things, causing the Army to cut down on days of training. So what use to be a 21 week IET course for example, is now a 16 week course. DOD cut 5 weeks of training. So they slowly chip away at training, every year,(To save money) and eventually, your soldiers are expected to essentially just get their training "On the Job" which is ridiculous, considering they are in a WAR ZONE.

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blight_ May 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Oh good, we've moved beyond the Contractor Years. Yay.

It'd be too much to ask to shut down the extraneous things that the military doesn't need: less VIP jet travel for politicos and generals (or bill them, especially the politicos). Consolidate some golf courses and extra commands, offer early retirement packages to "extra" generals to open up room for officers to promote up instead of out. Dial back future procurement programs to favor OTS instead of Off-The-[R&D ]Bench. Invest in separate programs with value to the warfighter (DCGS-common hardware, new engines, IRST, etc), instead of forcing everything into a Too-Big-To-Fail megaprogram.

I think we've hit stagnation as a power. It took Britain a century or so to hit it, and we've hit it in a half-century. Scary stuff.

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