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GAO report conflicts with Army over battlefield intelligence system

The Army’s battlefield intelligence processor is “difficult to operate” and suffers “workstation system failures,” The Washington Times reported Tuesday, citing a confidential government report.

The Government Accountability Office examined the Distributed Common Ground System, which some soldiers in the war zone have rejected as being slow and unreliable. According to the Times, the GAO says users testified that the system actually “impeded the flow of intelligence information.”

The Army has maintained that the system is a great step forward in collecting and organizing multiple pieces of intelligence for analysts to better understand the enemy.

The June “official use only” report, obtained by The Times, is being released as Congress writes next year’s defense budget. There are moves afoot, primarily by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., to limit funding and force the Army to consider commercially available products.

Hunter and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno had a heated exchange about the system at an April hearing. Hunter scolded Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh for not looking at open-source products such as Palantir to solve a problem for a unit in Afghanistan, and Odierno angrily denying the Army doesn’t do enough to protect its soldiers. Palantir is a computer program that specializes in finding links among terrorists, thus helping war fighters locate roadside bombs, the Times wrote. Hunter charges that the Army has made it difficult for units to obtain Palantir because officials want to protect the 13-year-old common ground system.

The GAO report notes that the Pentagon’s top tester last year gave a failing grade to the common ground system, saying it could not survive a cyberattack and was not operationally effective, and that soldiers find the system hard to use.

“The DCGS-A system requires 80 hours of basic training to learn how to use the system and can be difficult to operate because there are multiple components and data screens to manipulate,” the Times quotes the report as saying. “Users also voiced concerns that the performance of the DCGS-A multifunction workstation, a key component of the system, was unreliable and that the different versions of DCGS-A in use in the field impeded the flow of intelligence information.”

The GAO also examined Palantir and received mostly favorable reviews.

According to the Times, the GAO said special operations forces found Palantir to be “a highly effective system for conducting intelligence information analysis and supporting operations,” while the Army counters that Palantir only does some 10 percent of the tasks the warfighter requires.

news@stripes.com

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