The Army has denied soldiers the use of a privately developed software intended to mitigate the threat of improvised explosive devices, reportedly because it has already invested time and money in its own product.
Palantir, developed by Silicon Valley software company Palantir Technologies, and Distributed Common Ground System-Army, developed by Army’s intelligence command, are two similar programs. Both find bomb-making patterns, mine intelligence, input surveillance data, build dossiers on the enemy and help analysts predict the enemies next move.
Users of the two programs generally agree Palantir is the superior product, yet the Army has insisted troops use DCGS-A, The Blaze reports.
In 2009, 5th Stryker Brigade Tomahawk Battalion suffered the majority of casualties during its time deployed in a desert region of southern Afghanistan, which was laden with improvised explosive devices. The battalion had trained on Palantir prior to deployment, and soldiers on the ground had reported glitches and failures in DCGS-A. But the 5th Stryker was discouraged from using it, reports the Blaze.
At the time, the Army had already spent about $4 billion developing DCGS-A, which has a lifecycle cost of more than $28 billion, according to The Blaze. And senior Army officials wanted to push their system to the forefront and buy time to fix the bugs. Talk of Palantir was discouraged or forbidden.
But dozens of documents obtained by The Blaze overwhelmingly indicated that Palantir’s software, also used by U.S. Special Forces and the Marine Corps, was more user-friendly and reliable.
Capt. Ed Graham, company commander in the Tomahawk Battalion, explained the resulting challenges his troops faced in a 2010 after-action report, according to The Blaze. He said a special forces detachment left the battalion with a wealth of information, but they had no efficient way of organizing it.
“If only ODA and ourselves both had Palantir, the whole process would have been seamless,” Graham said. “It is a shame that the army had not allowed us to use Palantir from the beginning, I think we would have had a more successful deployment.”
A military intelligence analyst told The Blaze: “Palantir was like a thorn in [the Army's] side — they didn’t want to cut into their own research and funding — if they added the software program to their DCGS platform, it would eliminate their ability to keep lining their own pockets.”
Several years later, the 5th Stryker requested Palantir again. The response, according to The Blaze: “While I don’t disagree with your need, I cannot buy Palantir anymore without involving the Senior Leadership of the Army and they are very resistant.”
Thomas Schatz, president of the nonprofit Citizens Against Government Waste, testified in January about the matter before the House Oversight Committee, reports The Blaze. ”Although it is viewed by many as sacrosanct, the DOD is rife with waste, fraud, and abuse,” Schatz said, and added: ”According to Army brass, DCGS-A represents a breakthrough in intelligence support capability, while users have called it a huge, bloated, excessively expensive money pit.”
In an email to The Blaze, Army spokesman Matthew Bourke said the Army “strongly endorses the best intelligence capabilities for our warfighter, regardless of the industrial partner who is providing that capability.”