DCGS Comes Under Fire

No shots have been fired at DCGS using real munitions, but the Test and Evaluation community is never the less putting DCGS under its cross hairs as I write this post.

With the current anti-terror operations so dependent upon special operations magic, pin point drone strikes, and ISR-fueled battle space awareness, the idea that inter-service communication and data sharing depends upon a cobbled together set of processing nodes is frightening. But the just released information on an Army Test and Evaluation Command assessment of our ISR system says just that – concluding that Defense Common Ground System (DCGS) works in spite of flaws not because of proper integration.

When the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) was first initiated in 1998, the Pentagon envisioned an integrated and interoperable family of systems that would enable DOD users from across the military services to share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data. Today, the concept of seamless, real-time, multiservice ISR sharing remains a top goal for the Air Force, Army and Navy, each with their own version of DCGS.

“Technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s very difficult to keep pace with all the different systems, data formats, collection platforms, amounts of data, and complexity of exploitation – the challenges are huge,” said Col. Michael Shields, chief of the capabilities division at the Air Force ISR Agency’s directorate of plans, programs, requirements and assessments.

But the Army T&E community concludes that in spite of DIB 4.0 and other integration initiatives – “While inter-service intelligence sharing is improving, the Army is facing its own DCGS intra-service challenges. Despite spending more than $2.3 billion on DCGS-Army, the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) concludes that the system is “effective with significant limitations, not suitable, and not survivable.”

An August 1 e-mail memo from ATEC commander Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco to Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, first obtained by the Washington Times, found DCGS-A to be a system with “poor reliability.” The issues observed by ATEC included “server failures that resulted in reboots/restarts recorded every 5.5 hours of test” and “TS/SCI enclave workstation operators experienced a failure every 10.8 hours of active usage.” I don’t believe we would tolerate that level of poor performance in an insignificant business system, and surely not in an operational ISR platform. This type of “blue screen of death” behavior would put off users rapidly. So what did Army T&E say about user experience?

Dellarocco noted that DCGS-A’s “hardware and software ‘ease of use’ characteristics negatively impacted operator confidence and increased their frustration” with multiple open screens that were “required to complete a single task” and caused “workstation freeze-ups.”

So the commercial sector has already seen that Business Process Management (BPM) orchestration of the processes, tools, and databases of business improves process through-put. In fact DCGS-AF and their proponents in HQ USAF/A2 are pushing to deploy the capability of the Appian BPM suite to replace proprietary and unworkable multiple work flow tools as I write this post. They seem on the verge of finding a way past the DCGS-A problems and poised to go beyond that to an integration platform using the BPM tool to revolutionize the experience and the results in DCGS-AF.

Perhaps the DOD Intel community should take a pause and consider integration in the DIB as work process, analysis assignments across services, and information sharing through an Appian BPM administered DIB and Node structure? Just saying….

UPDATE: Well CNN got the scoop on this one and they have a posting at CNN Security that tells the tail.

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