Army in­tel says it needs a cloud in Afghanistan

Data would ‘save lives’

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The U.S. mil­i­tary’s main bat­tle­field in­tel­li­gence pro­ces­sor, so cru­cial to the war in Afghanistan, still lacks an el­e­ment com­mon to civil­ian com­puter net­works — a cloud.

A cloud com­put­ing ar­chi­tec­ture would give in­tel­li­gence an­a­lysts at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ous and wider ac­cess to all sorts of data, be it satel­lite im­agery or re­ports on Tal­iban in­for­mants.

In the­ory, faster, more thor­ough in­tel­li­gence prod­ucts lead to suc­cess on the bat­tle­field, such as iden­ti­fy­ing and dis­rupt­ing in­sur­gents plant­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices — the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The Army’s $28 bil­lion “cloud­less” pro­ces­sor — the Dis­trib­uted Com­mon Ground Sys­tem, com­monly called D-Sigs — has prompted con­gres­sional crit­i­cism. Rep. Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and a Marine Corps war vet­eran, has pressed the Army to turn to com­mer­cially avail­able com­put­ing prod­ucts to ad­dress the de­fi­ciency and, in his words, “save lives.”

The Army tested a cloud sys­tem dubbed “UX,”

then stopped it last month and is fo­cused on a pro­gram called Red Disk. The Army says its goal is to have D-Sigs matched with a cloud in its third it­er­a­tion, or “re­lease 3,” some­time af­ter 2014, when most U.S. troops are set to be out of Afghanistan.

Mr. Hunter viewed the UX in Afghanistan and was not im­pressed.

Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, deputy for ac­qui­si­tion and sys­tems man­age­ment at Army head­quar­ters, preaches pa­tience.

“D-Sigs is an ex­tremely com­plex pro­gram,” Gen. Greene told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “It is ex­actly the right thing to do. It’s try­ing to move from a num­ber of sin­gle in­tel­li­gence stovepipe sys­tems into an en­ter­prise so­lu­tion. In the course of do­ing that, it is a highly com­plex and tech­ni­cal ef­fort to make that mi­gra­tion. We have had some chal­lenges. But we’ve over­come those chal­lenges. I’m sure we will also have more work to do, but we are on a pos­i­tive glide slope right now. And we have it in use across the Army.”

Re­spond­ing to Mr. Hunter’s crit­i­cism, Gen. Greene laid out the fu­ture.

“The cloud for D-Sigs he is re­fer­ring to was an ear­lier ef­fort that we did also as a quick-re­ac­tion ca­pa­bil­ity,” he said. “And we used it as a learn­ing tool in prepa­ra­tion for the even­tual mi­gra­tion of D-Sigs to a cloud ar­chi­tec­ture in re­lease 3. We have stopped that ef­fort for the time be­ing. We did learn a lot of lessons, and even­tu­ally in re­lease 3 — we’re on re­lease 1 now in use in the field — two re­leases down the road we will go to a cloud ar­chi­tec­ture.”

Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s deputy chief of staff, said the con­gress­man has been right all along.

“So af­ter all this time, all the tax­payer dol­lars, all the at­tempts at con­vinc­ing, there is still no work­ing cloud in Afghanistan and D-Sigs is in no bet­ter shape than it was months or years ago,” Mr. Kasper said. “We have al­ways known that to be the case, and the con­gress­man even saw the non­func­tion­ing cloud in the­ater. Soon af­ter, the Army top brass told him that he was mis­in­formed, even though he saw it with his own eyes.”

Cloud com­put­ing refers to a col­lec­tion of com­put­ers that are linked via a com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­work that al­lows them to run pro­grams and share data in real time. The term also refers to a host of ser­vices that can be pro­vided by a net­work of com­put­ers and servers that share com­put­ing and stor­age func­tions.

Web-based email ser­vices such as Gmail and Hot­mail op­er­ate us­ing cloud com­put­ing. Emails are not con­tained on a user’s com­puter but in the email ser­vice’s cloud net­work.

In the works for more than a decade, D-Sigs has been plagued by poor test re­sults and anony­mous com­plaints from users who tell of com­puter “crashes” and slow pro­cess­ing.

An­other hic­cup arose last month when the Army dis­cov­ered it may have vi­o­lated the U.S. Anti-De­fi­ciency Act, which pro­hibits spend­ing on pro­grams without a spe­cific line-item ap­pro­pri­a­tion by Congress.

“What this reveals is that the Army could very well be fund­ing the de­vel­op­ment of D-Sigs from out­side its au­tho­rized ap­pro­pri­a­tion, most likely to hide the true cost of the pro­gram,” Mr. Kasper said.

The Army has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether $93.5 mil­lion in the 2012 bud­get was taken from op­er­a­tions and main­te­nance ac­counts, and war fund­ing, and di­verted to Red Disk, which is a re­search-and-de­vel­op­ment pro­gram de­signed to aug­ment D-Sigs and other in­tel­li­gence com­put­ing sys­tems.

“We’re not try­ing to hide any­thing,” Gen. Greene said. “We went to the Hill and told them ex­actly what was go­ing on, what we were in­ves­ti­gat­ing.”

On other is­sues, Gen. Greene said the Army made cor­rec­tions to DSigs in re­ac­tion to the Pen­tagon’s top weapons tester deem­ing it not op­er­a­tionally ef­fec­tive. He also said fixes were made af­ter the com­mand in Afghanistan gave a fail­ing grade on D-Sigs’ cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

“It’s im­por­tant for us that D-Sigs work to pro­vide the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and the Army with an en­ter­prise so­lu­tion that brings to­gether the task­ing pro­cess­ing, ex­ploita­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties in one co­her­ent in­fra­struc­ture,” Gen. Greene said.

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