The Army's cloud-based intelligence and situational awareness platform, the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, allegedly was "not operational" when an Oct. 3 U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital, according to Rep. Duncan Hunter.
Hunter on Oct. 20 wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter outlining his knowledge of the incident, which he said he obtained from military whistleblowers, and key capability gaps and failures in DCGS-A. He urged Carter conduct a thorough assessment of the system, which has faced controversy in the past, including alleged cover-ups of DCGS-A's problems in the field.
"My office has learned from multiple service members and officers that in the months leading up to, and during the tragic events of Oct. 3, when a U.S. airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, the primary components of the Pentagon's flagship intelligence system…were not operational in Afghanistan," Hunter wrote. "Senior Army leaders have gone to great lengths in recent years to deny evidence of the failures of the DCGS program, and I am asking for your help to prevent them from doing so following this tragic incident."
The Army did not respond to requests for comment on Hunter's allegations.
DCGS-A has been troubled by criticism and controversy over the years, including allegations that Army officials destroyed reports that were unflattering about the system that the Pentagon has sunk more than $5 billion into. Last year, one of the lead architects behind DCGS-A, Russell Richardson, was outed as faking his PhD credentials, or at least not correcting many references to him, including in official Army capacity and by Army officials, as Dr. Richardson.
In his letter, Hunter said the Army continues to obscure the truth about DCGS-A's functionality, writing that "soldiers and officers have told me directly about the risk of retaliation for speaking the truth on this issue. Army brigade commanders have told me of intimidation and threats after saying in writing that DCGS 'translates into operational opportunities missed and lives lost.' Such actions are indicative of a climate that is contradictory to a transparent and objective assessment of DCGS in the Kunduz incident."
But sources close to the program say that a complete DCGS-A operational failure is highly unlikely because of extensive redundancies in place to prevent outages and safeguard against gaps in situational awareness.
Despite the ongoing controversy, DCGS-A continues to move forward; a second request for information for the second increment was issued late last year, and a third RFI was in the works, DCGS-A Program Manager Col. Robert Collins told C4ISR & Networks in March.
"We've had active engagement this year, and our expected [request for proposals] when we finally finish this process is fiscal 2016 – there's a lot of work to do but it's an exciting year for us," LTG Mary Legere, Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence/G2, told C4ISR & Networks earlier this year. "We're hoping to capture most of the technical things we've learned in our previous pilots…and we have to make sure we've got [the Director of National Intelligence] and the agencies working with us to look at our architectural ideas and make sure the on-ramp we've planned makes sense. Then we have our own users that have nothing to do with the agencies but plenty to do with DCGS, and there [were] some focus groups going on with them. We're ramping toward this with as much input as possible."
At the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, executives at Lockheed Martin outlined what they expect to be part of DCGS-A's evolving requirements as the military looks toward different types and locations of conflicts.