The U.S. Army defended its battlefield intelligence system as a life-saving tool that soldiers need to share and analyze data with the defense community.
The service this week invited lawmakers, national-security officials and journalists to Fort Belvoir, Va., south of Washington, D.C., for a demonstration of the technology, which included a mix of computer servers, laptops and flat-screen monitors installed in trucks and air-conditioned tents.
The three-day event began May 15, weeks after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., sparred during a congressional hearing over the effectiveness of the system, called the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, or DCGS-A.
“It supports every one of our soldiers,” Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said during a May 16 press conference with reporters. “It provides the underlying intelligence for every decision that our commanders and soldiers make in the field and it saves lives.”
The Army program, part of a military-wide system, is designed to better capture, analyze and distribute intelligence from the war zone amid an explosion of digital information in the past decade, officials said. The service is shifting from “stovepipe” systems, in which data can’t be easily modified or shared, to an open architecture based on common standards set by the larger intelligence community, they said.
The move will impose “a much deeper level of standards,” said Russell Richardson, senior science adviser for the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command. “It’s down in the data itself — how the data is represented, how the data is tagged, all the way up through how the data is accessed and secured.”
The system draws on more than 600 sources of information, from Global Hawk drones and GPS satellites to ground sensors and biometric scanners, officials said. It uses a mix of commercial and military software applications to link the vast amounts of data, including Google Earth and Analyst Notebook, they said.
Soldiers showed how they could use various applications to plan a raid against a suspected insurgent in part by mapping his residence, viewing a three-dimensional image of the building and surrounding area, and monitoring real-time video from a drone flying overhead.
Rep. Hunter was to view the exhibit on May 17, officials said.
The congressman, a former Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during an April 25 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee criticized the system and said a commander who requested a commercial product made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. never received it.
Some troops and commanders have praised the Palantir software for being user-friendly and simplifying the task of link analysis, a technique used to evaluate relationships between entities, such as a target’s accomplices or travel patterns.
Palantir isn’t part of the Distributed Common Ground System, though units have used it on a limited basis in Afghanistan and the service is evaluating whether it can be modified or adopted for inclusion.
“It’s essentially a difficult problem because Palantir uses a different data anthology and data structure than we do on the DCGS side and the [intelligence community] side,” said Col. Charles Wells, who manages the Army program. “It’s not a trivial change or a trivial problem that we’re trying to work through. It actually requires some fundamental adjustments to the data structure.”
Soldiers at the demonstration noted that link analysis is but one of many features of the larger intelligence system. They also said Palantir isn’t compatible with and can’t export information to other software programs.
“I decided not to keep using it,” Staff Sgt. Clancey Henderson, 27, an intelligence analyst with the 1st Infantry Division, said after receiving a brief training course on the software last year in Afghanistan. “It was a very duplicative effort.”
The Army plans to hold a competition this fall for new link-analysis software as part of an effort to continually upgrade the system, according to Wells. Officials are working on a pilot project to develop an abridged version for Army Special Forces in Africa and another to begin integrating the system into the intelligence community’s “cloud” of networked servers.
The service in 2007 began developing the program, which is projected to receive $10.2 billion over the next three decades, officials have said. As many as 60 companies have contracts to build the system, from major defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. to Silicon Valley firms such as Google Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.