back to article US Army's cloud-friendly iPad-ready intel kit DOESN'T even work

The US Army has deemed its key $2.3bn intelligence gathering system "not suitable, and not survivable". The DCGS-A (Distributed Common Ground System - Army) is intended to be an ambitious master database of intelligence. It is fully buzzword-compliant, of course – everything from cloud-friendly to iPad-capable, and drawn from …

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Ru
Facepalm

"Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and IBM."

That's quite a lineup.

I guess that getting rid of 2.3 billion dollars simply by setting it on fire might take quite a while to do properly, and would probably leave quite a bit of ash behind.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and IBM."

"quite a bit of ash behind."

and a smell of roast pork ?

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Silver badge

Re: "Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and IBM."

Yeah, those first three companies gobble up millions in "development" just to tell you how many millions it'll take to design a prototype. There are many smaller companies* that'd deliver a working product for what the big three use in development, but they have neither the lobbying power nor the contacts to get the contracts.

Let's face it, if if weren't for the military/government pork gravy trough, the only name on that list would be IBM, the rest would've gone under decades ago.

*Elon Musk's little rocket company is a prime example. For a fraction of what the above three have eaten in "development", he's produced a space capability equal to most space-faring nations.

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Still, at least it was tend-aware.

Shame it wasn't purse-friendly.

(now I have to go puke and shower, I feel dirty)

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Anonymous Coward

hmm

lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and IBM.

Lockheed Martin = miliatry tech / aerospace / defense contractor

Northrup Grunman = military tech / aerospace / defense contractor

Raytheon = defense contractor

General Dynamics = Aerospace / defense contractor

IBM = shit

Going by what I've heard from.. somebody I know who works for a defense contracter, they never work together nice. They all want the other company to do part of their workload etc, passing on information between them in the incorrect formats, leaving out / sensoring 'sensitive information' which is required for full integration.

I wouldn't be surprised if that was one of the big reasons behind the problems. And considering it's intel kit, and IBM is onboard, I can only assume that IBM was there partly for hardware and mostly for software

If that's the case no wonder it died. IBM can't even make an email client that isn't buggy as hell. How they're even in business still I don't know. Probably because most businesseses are too stupid to realise that there are many alternative options out their to the shitware IBM release. Or because of how the IBM shitware works they're locked in because it'd be too expensive to move to something better.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: hmm

Bit of an axe to grind there haven't we? Perhaps you are forgetting the parts of IBM that really know their shit and how to build equipment with 100% uptime (no, not so many nines, actually 100%)?

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Re: hmm

So we're to assume those 100%-availability guys rotated out to lunch every 5.5 hour?

The part of IBM that does contracts like this one is the services part. Their bonuses depend on hours billed. They're abysmal and will take any project back to an enterprise architecture citing the usual bullshit justifications you need to cite to create nothing more than an IT dictionary. In the meantime everyone's so caught up in DoD AF (DoD version of TOGAF) that no-one's got time to actually build anything.

When they DO build something they use these crazy patterns like dependency injection because they're so complex to a). implement and b). actually configure when deployed that it results in more billable hours.

Systems integrators, whether in aerospace and defence (a sector I'm far too intimately familiar with) or anything else, is broken. Broken with a capital F.

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Re: hmm

Claiming 100% uptime just means you've not measured over a long enough period.

Even if you do everything according to ITIL best practices, sooner or later (a) dinosaur killer(s) will hit your multiply redundant data centres.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC ... Re: hmm

Hmmm. Perhaps you work for IBM and that's why you're so supportive?

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Linux

Re: hmm

In other words: IBM can make a great server.

Just don't ask them to create a user interface for you. What you end up with scare you more than the enemy.

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FAIL

Re: @AC ... hmm

Maybe he does work for IBM, maybe he doesn't. But given the drivel posted by the OP ("IBM=shit") his defensive position is justified. IBM is a $100bn company with 435,000 employees. They will do some stuff badly, and a lot very well; otherwise they would not be anywhere near the colossus they are.

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Anonymous Coward

100% Uptime

"Perhaps you are forgetting the parts of IBM that really know their s**t and how to build equipment with 100% uptime (no, not so many nines, actually 100%)?"

So which part of IBM performs this miracle then? Or did you just pull this out of your a**e?

100% uptime is not possible, period. Not by IBM nor by any other vendor. 99? Easy. 99.9%? No Problem. 99.999? Doable. 99.99999%? Maybe. 100%? No way.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @AC ... hmm

"But given the drivel posted by the OP ("IBM=s**t") his defensive position is justified."

No, it isn't. IBM or the part that deals with such project is exactly that. And I'm speaking from quite a bit of experience.

"IBM is a $100bn company with 435,000 employees. They will do some stuff badly, and a lot very well; otherwise they would not be anywhere near the colossus they are."

It's naive to believe that the size or success of a company is anyhow related to providing good products. IBM used to make good and reliable hardware, but stopped doing so almost a decade ago. Today they are primarily a software and services shop, touting a mix of 3rd party and own products to customers. Their handling of large projects is generally as atrocious as other vendors (for example Accenture), with their incompetence often only trumped by those of their customers. The only thing they are good at nowadays is their sales deepartment.

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Anonymous Coward

In other words: IBM can make a great server.

No, they can't. Not anymore (they used to maybe a decade ago). Even their current hardware is just crap.

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Anonymous Coward

Military-grade iPad.....hmmmm?

Did anybody really expect an ipad or iphone to be sufficiently rugged for military use?

They don't usually survive very well in a normal domestic environment, and after all

were really only designed to be fashion accessories - which they do very well.

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Buzzword-compliant

. . sums it up nicely.

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FAIL

Well that was a couple of billion well spent wasn't it... remind me, how exactly did the U.S get into such massive debt again?

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Silver badge

[facepalm]

On that linked app store story, they even mentioned "killer apps" - sigh.

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Coat

Re: [facepalm]

I guess "anti-personnel apps" didn't test as well for the target audience.

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Anonymous Coward

What the problem was, and how to solve it.

What the problem was, and how to solve it:

They need to switch from Ubuntu to Debian.

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Thumb Up

Chickens&Weaving

Dear military types,

Putting all of ones eggs in the one basket is not a very good idea.

But on the plus side at least it keeps the pension pots of the military contractors CEO's

topped up...which was probably the idea in the first place.

Brandy and cigars all round sir.

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Facepalm

Like a US (or indeed UK) defence contract going horribly over budget with nothing to show for it is a rare event these days. Try looking up the US Military's attempt to build a Software Defined Radio that resulted in "portable" kit that was, when power source was added, too heavy to carry and didn't work properly anyway.

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Software defined radio

Well it looks as if they or somebody ckacked the weight problem see here http://www.army.mil/article/73608/

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Anonymous Coward

mil specs

I don't know if they've changed in the last 50 years, but the company my dad worked for in the '60s was tasked to build a prototype multiband antenna for a specific set of frequencies. They designed a (IIRC) 20ft spherical antenna for shipboard mounting that met the specs....only to find out that what they really wanted was a backpack model for ground troops.

Some things never change, and the rest shouldn't have.

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As someone who actually works with these systems...

I think its a major overreaction by Officers that come from the Special Warfare community as well as congressmen who both have a vested interest in forcing the MI Branch (full disclosure: MI is my branch) to do what they want us to. This has alot to do with Army politics in the Army and American civilians, much less British civilians can not possibly understand it. Ive been in the Military Intelligence Branch for my entire Military career, coming up on 12 years, and I can barely understand it. No offense, but you guys have no hope of attempting to understand this.

Anyway, the angle here is that ARSOC (Army Special Operations Command, they run the Rangers, Special Forces, Special Operations Aviation, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations and their various schools. Basically ARSOC is responsible for everything "Special" besides the Intelligence Support Activity and Delta Force, which are run by the Joint Special Operations Command) uses a system called Palantir, as do the Marines.

Yes, its true that the Army didn't want it, INSCOM, the Intelligence and Security Command was dead set against it. The reason being that It works well for tactical intelligence analysis and collection, but not so much for Strategic/Level Above Corps. Perhaps it could be adapted for it, but having used it, I really doubt it. The one thing it has going for it is that its UI is alot more intuitive and easy to train for than DCGS-A or even the current CGS. The problem is that Congress wont give us the funding for two systems when we really ought to have two, one Strategic, one Tactical.

Anyway, how much did Palantir pay you for this article? Im absolutely serious here too. Palantir astroturfs like crazy, comes up with outright lies, has a team of "journalists" (nameless bloggers mostly, if this was really an issue, Michael Yon would have already been all over it, so would David Axe and UncleJimbo at BlackFive), and have ruined careers of people who support DCGS-A over their system. Its also telling that the congressmen who are investigating are all taking money from Palantir's Super PAC.

DCGS-A is brand new. Its not going to stand up to a fullscale exercise yet. New Military computer systems tend to fall over for years before they work well. A common ground station project as ambitious as this probably wont work as well as it needs to until the end of the decade. The full specification is classified so I really cant go into much detail, but its more ambitious than any of the other "disruptive technology" intelligence collection/analysis systems currently in use or in planning.

This is like someone in the 1970's expecting a Minicomputer to outperform a Mainframe. Its unrealistic and the idiots (read: Politicians) who think they know better than the Intelligence NCOs and Officers, as well as Officers who are not from our branch and have no frame of reference for what they're talking about dictating that they're right to the people who do use this stuff and have careers that could be made or broken by this, not to mention the people that could be killed if one of these systems isnt up to snuff. This isnt a matter of financial cost, its a matter of life and death and I think alot of you are concentrating on the wrong thing here.

Im not saying DCGS-A is perfect, or even a good system (yet), honestly a classified system that both Palantir and DCGS-A are attempting to replicate is much, much better than either. But the Generals and Congressmen don't get their dog and pony show out of an already existing system which could easily be adapted for use in every Brigade and above level unit's S-2 office.

And honestly, the recorded failures were not bad at all for a brand new system under development being stress tested. Think of this as an Alpha build. There are going to be bugs, and alot of them, especially considering that this thing has to be able to integrate about 12 separate networks, their APIs, their encryption, etc. Including extremely robust systems like NSANET and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System. Id really like to see a development Palantir system outperform it.

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Re: As someone who actually works with these systems...

I am awed by your knowledge. I don't doubt that much of what you say is true, esp. the part about rivalry - I like military history and rivalry is always around in those circles.

Still...

spending $2.3B for a piece of software? Really?

Don't tell me about the hardware, you don't scale that part up till your ones and zeros work reliably enough. To waste $2.3B to find that the software still needs work is an insult to all the poor grunts at risk on the front lines.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Re: As someone who actually works with these systems...

Quote:

This is like someone in the 1970's expecting a Minicomputer to outperform a Mainframe. Its unrealistic and the idiots (read: Politicians) who think they know better than the Intelligence NCOs and Officers, as well as Officers who are not from our branch and have no frame of reference for what they're talking about dictating that they're right to the people who do use this stuff and have careers that could be made or broken by this, not to mention the people that could be killed if one of these systems isnt up to snuff.

Sound like the military's version of damagement????

At least, in the military, there is a solution for this that is somewhat problematic in the civilian world. My Viet Nam era buddies often called it fragging (for those who are too young: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fragging )

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FAIL

Re: As someone who actually works with these systems...

"Ive been in the Military Intelligence Branch for my entire Military career, coming up on 12 years, and I can barely understand it. No offense, but you guys have no hope of attempting to understand this."

No, I can't understand what you are getting at. I was Armor for 10 years, and when we got equipment that didn't work, it got put in the sponson box or unused all together. We don't need a dissertation on what an MI person thinks on things that real troopers in the field need or do not need. Your job is to guess what the bad guys are up to, and with all the body bags (and counting), your branch isn't doing all that good.

Stick to guessing. Unless you want to strap on the guns and risk your ass with shitty equipment.

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Vic
Silver badge

Re: As someone who actually works with these systems...

> New Military computer systems tend to fall over for years before they work well

Really?

Perhaps you might like to look at the civilian market, where the servers don't fall over for years on end...

Vic.

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Re: Tank boy

>>No, I can't understand what you are getting at. I was Armor for 10 years, and when we got equipment that didn't work, it got put in the sponson box or unused all together. Your job is to guess what the bad guys are up to, and with all the body bags (and counting), your branch isn't doing all that good.

Oh boy, the POG vs. "Real" Soldier debate. Cant escape it anywhere. My patience for this is extremely limited because its always combat arms Soldiers who aren't secure about their own performance. Im close friends with several infantrymen, even more Sappers, and even some Cav scouts, none of them play this game because they're secure in their performance of their duties. And while I have respect for your branch and for your service, obviously you disrespect mine, so whatever. But good for you, and think what you want. Its just really grating that EVERY SINGLE TIME we talk about WHAT WE DO AND KNOW, one of you people has to bitch and moan and unlike SOC, who genuinely want to improve Intelligence because they have to work with it directly, I know Combat Arms does it out of pettiness.

>>We don't need a dissertation on what an MI person thinks on things that real troopers in the field need or do not need.

Really? Since when does a common ground station get used by Combat Arms in the field? Kind of a hellacious load to carry in your tank or APC isnt it?

Last I checked you got your Intel product from your S-2 guys as well as RSTA and Infantry's SR guys, and updates on the radio and over SIPRnet email from us. A common ground station system isnt something you use, nor is it something you're qualified to speak about. You don't see me saying anything about how Sabot rounds ought to be replaced completely by HEAT rounds or how they ought to strip the reactive armor off of your tanks, even if either example was an issue, Im not qualified at all to speak about it. I dont use it, Im not trained on it, I have damned near zero professional education about Armor and Cavalry except in regard to your TO&Es, your intelligence requirements, and the signals interception platforms embedded on your vehicles. So I really dont need to hear from an Armor trooper or Cav scout who has no idea what the flying fuck he's talking about lecture me on the non-merit of something I didnt come anywhere near saying.

I didn't say a damn thing about anything that combat arms will come anywhere near using, EVER! You might use derivative products and submit reports to your 35Fs, who then use the system, but you will never directly use the system except in exceptionally limited circumstances.

Goddamn, Id expect this kind of dumbassery out of a Private, Specialist, or Corporal, but if you were in for 10 years you had to have been a Sergeant at least and should really know better.

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Re: Vic

I know what you're getting at Vic, and I feel the same way, production environments should (of course) have outstanding uptimes. But with an Alpha build, and hell the system that was reported on was pre-Alpha basically, you arent going to get years of uptime unless you're exceptionally lucky and the developers are really good. With the lowest bidder's company, thats simply not happening.

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Re: As someone who actually works with these systems...

Yeah Jean-Luc, there's excellent example of Army rivalry that I just wrote, even though its a weird one. Ive never had an issue with Armor before.

And Im not saying ARSOC doesn't have our best interests in mind along with theirs. Tactical Intelligence types actually love Palantir, its a great system for them. Im a Strat Brat, I work Strategic level and I dont think its good enough for us, but Ive advocated two systems that are linked together in the A-Space later in the Cycle since I started doing analysis and managing analysts more than Collection, which is my actual original Military Occupational Specialty. Tactical and Strategic collection and analysis are vastly different.

Yeah, I agree with you though, $2.3 billion's an insane amount for a system in development, considering some of the other software we use has nowhere near as high a price tag TCO wise and was probably more difficult to develop. In all reality the Army should have killed the program as soon as it went overbudget. MI shouldnt be treated any different than Aviation, Artillery, or Armor.

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Silver badge

Bah!

In this economy shouldn't we be asking defense contractors to supply working modular kit that they have developed using their own resources rather than asking the taxpayer to support another Sergeant York for years to come?

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Facepalm

"multiple open screens are required to complete any task"

Well, doesn't sound like it would have been iPad-ready, or any-tablet-ready, since no tablets support having multiple apps open on the same screen at once. Hell, even Windows 8 won't allow that unless you use the classic desktop, thanks to Microsoft's infinite capacity for stupidity.

Perhaps they were planning on wallpapering the interior of whatever vehicle this went into with iPads so you could use all those screens at once? No defense contractor would spec a product that costs only $500 and they don't make when they can spec something they do make it and sell it for $30,000 each. So if this project goes forward, look for the iPad to be labeled a proof of concept only, and and the production version will use a special "ruggedized" tablet the defense contractors make that runs a slightly hacked version of Android but explicably costs about 100x more than it should. Now THAT sounds like the defense contractors that made America great(ly in debt)

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Anonymous Coward

and all just

to kill people

sigh

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Flame

Perfectly acceptable

Blimey, ease up everyone - its only defence money! Remember there's only one rule for defence contracts.

"The winner gets the cheque".

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Silver badge

I could understand it if it was a German project

After all we Germans are fairly anti-militaristic because of our "special place in history" caused by the last time we were militaristic.

It is considered to be unethical to work for the military or secret services. And people think that you can only loose in that game. In fact we even had 2 people who have lost, "Karl Koch" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Koch_%28hacker%29 and "Tron" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tron_%28hacker%29

If you are smart and in Germany, you avoid the military and the police.

The result is that if you are a German engineer or hacker who has a morale, you try to avoid working for such shops. It is not always possible to do that, but the results in Germany are already impressive.

The German "governmental Trojan" was implemented quite incompetently using very insecure fixed key encraption.

The German military has a logistics IT system called "Herkules" http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herkules_%28IT-Projekt%29 which doesn't even allow them to reliably buy toilet paper. (according to anonymous military sources)

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Meh

At least they admitted it didn't work

All too often, super-duper military projects are made to work (see the Star Wars tests where the target broadcast its position to the hunter), and never, ever, say die. Yeah, they tried something that perhaps would have been better ignored, but they seem to have reported the results honestly.

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WTF?

dodgy headline, El Reg

'Scuse me but just where in the report does iPad get a mention?

In any other related docs, perhaps??

I can't see one so wonder about the iPad connection you tout in the headline.

Please explain.

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