By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 17, 2013) -- This week, the Army Intelligence and Security Command conducted a demonstration of the Distributed Common Ground System - Army, for members of the press as well as members of Congress and their staff to help them better understand the system.
The top message coming out of the demonstration was that Distributed Common Ground System - Army, or DCGS-A, is compliant with the standards of the intelligence community, that includes the Army, the other services, the DOD intelligence agencies, and other federal government intelligence services as well.
Also a key message of Army intelligence community leaders at the demonstration was the idea that new tools and software packages could be added to the already robust DCGS-A "family of capabilities," but only if they are compliant with the standards of the intelligence community, only if they are seamlessly interoperable.
The DCGS-A is part of a larger network of DCGS systems within the DOD, including one run by the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Air Force.
The "system" connects Soldiers involved in intelligence gathering and analysis with each other, with those in the intelligence community of joint partners, and with the larger intelligence community of the U.S.
DCGS-A is already deployed to theaters worldwide, said Lt. Gen. Mary A. Legere, the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-2.
"It is globally deployed," Legere said. "This is not a system that is in the lab. This is a system that is supporting and has supported nine corps, 38 divisions and 138 brigade combat teams. It has been since its inception, fielded, and supporting both of the wars, as well as spreading out to other global theaters."
Today, she said, DCGS-A is in Afghanistan and is used by Soldiers throughout the Middle East, as well as at units assigned to U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Army Pacific Command, "and anywhere you have Soldiers who are deployed."
The DCGS-A is not a piece of software, or a piece of hardware. It's really an "enterprise," Legere said.
That is, there is now a collection of different software packages, only some developed by the Army, that are used by members of the intelligence community across the Army. All of those software packages can process intelligence that is shared in a way that they can all access it and process it without the complication of incompatible data.
Intelligence information produced by Army sensors, such as a Gray Eagle, a Global Hawk or a Shadow unmanned aerial system, or by human intelligence gatherers, are easily ingested into the DCGS-A system because they are all compliant with one standard. And the data, once inside the system, is easily shared, around the world and instantly, with users of DCGS-A.
The data, because it is compliant with a single standard, can be ingested and processed by any one of dozens of intelligence analysis software tools because all the data is compatible. Output from those tools also remains compatible and visible across the DCGS-A "enterprise," across the intelligence assets of other services, and across the wider U.S. intelligence community.
Legere said DCGS-A is a "family of capabilities, [that] includes sensor controls and downlinks for data that connects our Soldiers to the joint intelligence platforms. It's a common enterprise, it ensures all the data they see is viewable and is accessible so the Soldiers can collect, analyze, collaborate, re-task and redistribute intelligence."
It's not the Army, or one defense contractor that has built DCGS-A. Legere said more than 40 private sector industry partners across the U.S. are participants in development of the system, all of whom have adjusted their own independent products they brought to the table to fit within the DCGS-A environment, and within the environment of the larger U.S. intelligence community.
Legere said that there is better software available to be included within the DCGS-A enterprise, but that in order for such software pieces to be accepted and integrated, they must first be compliant with DCGS-A, which is in turn compliant with intelligence community standards.
"We take joint and intelligence community interoperability very seriously," Legere said. "We work with the other DCGS programs [in the other services], so that nothing comes in on our hardware or software that would impede our ability to share or interact with our partners, their data or sensors."
The general went on to say that Soldier safety, and winning the war fight is the No. 1 priority of the DCGS-A program, and data standards is key to ensuring that.
"Ultimately, every decision we make about our program is about our Soldiers and their commanders," she said. "Sometimes we have to explain that that intelligence community standard, and that data access, may be more important than the thing that, quite frankly, seems easier, but creates issues."
The Army didn't create the intelligence community data standards, Legere said. But the Army does, as the largest "footprint" in any theater, have a responsibility for compliance with those standards, and like joining the Army itself, part of participation means compliance with standards.
"Other services count on the Army for this disciplined support," she said. "And our industry partners who work with us understand we do not want to compromise interoperability in order to use their products."