Monday, August 27, 2012

DCGS-A v. Palantir

A recent and ongoing debate within DoD regarding analytical software that enables All Source Analysts to develop and target terrorist networks. A debate reported by the media, which ebales me to lead in with a quite german quote from the SOFREP article snipped below: Palantir is not an “Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) finding program”. Wow. What a colossal failure by the media. It doesn’t find anything. Much like DCGS, it uses existing sensor infrastructure and message traffic and integrates them into the Palantir user interface. It does however allow you to “crowd source” your work by putting it on the network for everyone to see and work on.

I was not only surprised to see this reported in the MSM, but additionally surprised to see them entirely off base regarding what Palantir does. I use Palantir quite often in my work, but have never touched I'm a little bit baised, and have relied on assessments of DCGS-A from the analysts I work with.
Thus, you have two types of tools. The Army builds the first one. This means the Army said, “I want to see this and this, and this is the type of architecture I want”, and then they ask if Lockheed or Boeing can make it happen. Army engineers are certainly part of the process, but a lot of the nug coding and telecom work is done by companies.

The second is built for finance, with defense uses. It is built ground up by a company and being marketed and sold to the Army (and the other services). The company brings its architecture to the Army, it requires installation, but does not have to be built from the ground up.

Does Palantir have folks that lobby for it? Yes. Does DCGS-A have folks that lobby for it? Yes. Is Palantir expensive? Yes. Is it worth the cost? IMHO, Yes. Is DCGS-A expensive? Less than Palantir, but yes, it’s expensive. Is it worth the cost? Yes. Can you compare DCGS-A on a one-to-one level to Palantir? No. Each does different things and is better at different things. This means you are comparing a duck to a moose.

This argument arose at a policy and bean counter (comptroller) level. The debate was meant to give publicity (for whatever reason) to one or both of the programs and does not in any way address the issue of whether or not these tools are useful to the analyst and thus relevant to whether it saves soldiers’ lives. If it does, both sides are guilty of a degree of hypocrisy. Both of the systems have saved soldiers’ lives, because both save time. It’s a subjective argument and, personally, I as an analyst would not like to go to the battlefield without either of these systems. In fact, the more useful tools I have, the more lives I can help save.

How do you save money? Don’t spend nearly a quarter of your acquisition budget on a piece of flying hardware that doesn’t work effectively. My two cents.

Purchasing licenses for Palantir is what I consider one of the smartest moves the Army has actioned in quite some time. What's not smart is to allow this issue to be debated within the media.


  1. These things go public because they are fighting over federal dollars. I upsets me to see this kind of stuff go on and nobody get prosecuted.

    Also, it's instructive to see the press report on something you're very intimate with, isn't it? You see up close just how clueless and wrong they can be.

  2. The media has quite often made me scratch my head at glaring but easily sourced inaccuracies.

  3. Your's is the best and most honest analysis of the DCGS-A "versus" Palantir "debate".

  4. Anon - Thanks, but any inspiration I had came primarily from the SOFREP article.


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