By Col. William L. Edwards and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tyson J. Van PattenJanuary 16, 2015
The Army's primary intelligence weapon system, Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), is supporting the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), deployed as the headquarters unit for the military mission in Liberia to help contain, track and stop the spread of Ebola in support of Operation United Assistance.
DCGS-A's expeditionary design recently adapted to mission sets outside of combat operations and provided needed support to a humanitarian and disaster relief mission.
For the first time, the power of DCGS-A was leveraged to support a humanitarian operation on an unclassified network. Working closely with the deploying unit, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capability Manager Sensor Processing (TCM SP) and Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) tailored the system to synthesize data from non-DoD sources to create a common operating picture the deployed commander could use to coordinate activities with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental agencies (IGOs), and the government of Liberia.
Maj. Gen. Bob Ashley, commanding general, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence and Fort Huachuca said, "The Liberian mission demonstrates the flexibility of the DCGS-A program in supporting a myriad of Joint Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational mission sets our commanders face in today's complex world."
The genesis for the 101st Airborne to deploy with and employ DCGS-A on unclassified networks became evident as the unit's requirement was further defined to track the outbreak of the disease, coordinate with interagency partners and give NGO support organizations a clear picture of where and how the disease spread in order to predict when and where it was most likely to go.
The architecture for the requirement and employment of the system was planned, coordinated and executed between the Division's Intelligence and Signal officers, TCM SP and INSCOM technical experts during a DCGS-A tactical engagement training session.
Utilizing unique DCGS-A applications, analysts are able to rapidly search data from many different sources including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Analysts are also able to search against unclassified Department of Defense reports from such organizations as Civil Affairs. This ability provides not only the commander but other partners a timely, relevant, and accurate view of the crisis in Liberia.
By using an unclassified version of the DCGS-A system, intelligence analysts built in a reach back capability to access a wide variety of existing information. The Joint Forces Command in Liberia took a server and laptops forward to support the mission. The laptops were loaded with Google Earth Globe for a common background as well as the DCGS-A database functionality that allows users to create time stamped events for tracking and analysis. The laptops require very little bandwidth to operate making them well suited for tactical networks and they all synchronize with each other for a common picture. Along with in-theater support, forward deployed analysts can leverage support through reach to Fort Campbell for both information and analytic support.
Robert Coon, INSCOM Systems Integration, explained, "Our DCGS unclassified effort was unique because it combine TCM-SP, Program Management Office DCGS, Network Integration Technology Integration Command (NETCOM), Forces Command (FORSCOM) and INSCOM cooperation at all levels." The teaming of multiple organizations to respond to a unique mission requirement demonstrated the flexibility of the DCGS family of systems. Coon further said, "By reverse engineering 101st requirements, we were able to quickly react to mission dynamics and federate the system architecture that reduced information bottle necks and increased ease of use at all levels."
Essentially, it was a scenario of being present at a critical time, with subject matter expertise on the ground at Fort Campbell, Ky., able to assist. Once the concept and architecture were agreed upon, the Program Manager's Office immediately provided the necessary equipment to the 101st Airborne creating a unique and innovative capability utilizing DCGS-A to support multi-national, interagency and NGO efforts in an operation closely watched by nations across the world.
As the operation has progressed, the 101st has used the common picture generated through the tailored DCGS systems to conduct a multitude of missions. From supervising the construction of Ebola Treatment Units and providing engineering expertise to conducting site surveys, commanders are able to rapidly consolidate information that provides a shared situational awareness across the command facilitating leader decision-making.
DCGS-A is enabling intelligence analysis to support Humanitarian and Disaster Relief efforts in a scalable, tailorable manner. The DCGS enabled common operating picture has resulted in increased understanding of the progress to contain the Ebola Virus.