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What is "DCGS-A"?

"DCGS-A is one of the cornerstone systems of the Objective Force...."

--General Eric K. Shinseki, Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, 21 November 2002

"DCGS-A is the centerpiece of the future intelligence framework and is the enabler for all operations...."

--Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander, Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) G2, U.S. Army, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 7 April 2004

Continued advances in information technology (IT) are rapidly changing the way we are able to move, store, and process information. All of us are aware of these changes and their impact on our daily lives. Major automation changes occur so fast that we often forget that complex tasks have become much simpler, and that while these changes make more information available to use, automation can also help sift through mounds of data. "Moore's Law" holds that the amount of information storable on a silicon chip roughly doubles every 18 months. Enhanced communications capabilities such as "broadband" and "high-speed Internet" allow large amounts of data to move at rapid rates to anyone in the network. Other Internet technologies such as web browsers enable common viewing of information for users accessing the information. Data storage and retrieval is becoming faster and more refined.

Coinciding with advances in IT, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the military services speak of the "Command, Control, Communications, Computers (C4) and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Transformation," "net-centric warfare," "horizontal fusion," and other network concepts that will rely on automation and communications to speed and process information, breaking down barriers in the information stream to get the right information to the right place at the right time. As part of the DOD C4 and ISR Transformation, the DOD Distributed Common Ground/Surface System (DCGS) effort provides the framework for the military services to develop a common, interoperable, family of systems to task, post and process, use, and disseminate ISR sensor data and intelligence products.

The Army's solution to meet these challenges is the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A). This system will transform the way we in Army Military Intelligence (MI) task ISR sensors, as well as move and process ISR sensor data and intelligence information to support commanders and soldiers. This system will provide an automated and auto-assisted data-fusion capability to enable situational awareness and understanding, allowing commanders to accelerate the decision-action cycle. In some cases, it will change the way MI does business, as this is more than a change of equipment. It will also impact current doctrine, training, leader development, organizations, personnel and facilities. In this fast-paced and changing environment, DCGS-A concepts have also changed, as the Army refines the evolving operational concepts it will support. The result has often been confusion and misrepresentation of this system. Critical questions we must answer include--

[] What is this system and what does it mean for soldiers in the future?

[] Where will this system be located?

[] When is this "net-centric" ISR enterprise going to exist?

This article will answer these questions.

What Is DCGS-A?

DCGS-A is an emerging MI system that will use IT to consolidate the capabilities found in all our current ground stations. It is the ISR fusion and processing system of systems for the Army's Future Force. Imagine a single system that consolidates functions and replaces the following current MI systems:

[] All-Source Analysis System (ASAS).

[] Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence (CI/HUMINT) Single-Source Workstation.

[] Tactical Exploitation System (TES) family of systems.

[] Guardrail Information Node (GRIFN) and Guardrail Common Sensor (GRCS) Intelligence Processing Facility (IPF).

[] Prophet control.

[] Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) Common Ground Station (CGS).

[] Enhanced TRACKWOLF processing capabilities.

It will also contain Digital Topographic Support System (DTSS)- and Integrated Meteorological System (IMETS)-like capabilities.

DCGS-A is more than just a consolidation of our current ground processing capabilities. It will interoperate and network with other Service's DCGS, as well as with databases and systems owned and operated by the national Intelligence Community. DCGS-A will leverage national and Joint ISR capabilities down to joint task force (JTF)-level, into Army Units of Employment (UEs), Units of Action (UAs), and into the Future Combat System (FCS), the future Battle Command System (BCS), and Land Warrior. It will also enable information-sharing with our coalition partners.

As the ISR processing component of the future BCS and a complementary system to FCS, DCGS-A will facilitate providing near-real-time (NRT) information and visualization for every echelon, providing the threat, the "unknown" variables of the contemporary operating environment (COE), terrain, and weather slices of the common operational picture (COP). It will enable collaboration and "reach" at multiple echelons, allowing users to reach to an analytical center, including to a national Intelligence Community analytical element or "Knowledge Center" as necessary (see Figure 1).


DCGS-A supports targeting, ISR Management, and Synchronization (of organic and non-organic sensors) as well as the exploitation of information through automated and semiautomated fusion of information from multiple sources, and it provides analyst tools. It will be modular, scaleable, and tailorable based on mission needs, improving unit deploy-ability and sustainability. This will reduce units' forward footprints by providing time-sensitive intelligence, information, and data forward, while reducing the number of soldiers and quantity of equipment required forward, especially at brigade and lower levels. It will receive and process ISR data from a wide variety of automated and manual sensors and sources, including space platforms, manned and unmanned air sensor platforms, and ground sensors. DCGS-A will also access an assortment of correlated databases, all of which will be interactive and updated in NRT.

The system serves as the designated ground control station for Aerial Common Sensor (ACS), Prophet, and other sensors. DCGS-A will allow Joint warfighters, Army commanders at all levels, and individual soldiers to be aware of and visualize enemy forces and environmental considerations. When combined with the "friendly picture," it will provide tools to enable understanding of the consequences as each of these complex entities interact--the essence of the Army Vision and "network-centric warfare."

Operators of this system will range from individual soldiers to commanders and MI specialists, located at all organizational levels and echelons. DCGS-A will provide MI soldiers with access to information sources and the tools to perform their missions. It will provide other, non-MI soldiers and commanders with ISR tools and information not available to them today. These users will be able to access the network and input data, while simultaneously reaching a wide variety of information sources and sensor information. Some users will have special permissions to task and control sensors; MI soldiers using this system will work in a multiple-intelligence-discipline environment with the ability to task and control multiple sensors and cross-cue sensors to confirm information. They will also be able to collaborate with their counterparts in another Service's DCGS node, an analysis and control element (ACE) at home station, a Joint Intelligence Center, or with an analyst at a national intelligence agency. Every soldier will routinely benefit from this system through timely and relevant information posted to the COP.

Where Will It Be?

DCGS-A will be a component of the future BCS and part of the ISR sensor network in the Global Information Grid (GIG). DCGS-A "nodes" will be at multiple locations and at multiple echelons linked into the network (see Figure 2) to interface and interoperate with sensors and other Service component's DCGS family of systems, and to facilitate reach from the forward deployed soldier to national intelligence agencies. There will be three primary types of DCGS-A nodes; two are physical configurations (fixed facilities and mobile systems) and the third is DCGS-A software embedded in future battle command and future combat system workstations.


At corps, and army-level headquarters of today--termed Units of Employment "y" (UEy) for higher-level operational headquarters in the Future Force--DCGS-A will be primarily in fixed facilities. Fixed DCGS-A sites, including the soldiers and civilians operating the system at those facilities, will perform the "heavy lifting" for deployed units, tasking, for example, national sensors and providing analytical "overwatch" for deployed elements.

There will also be small, deployable, mobile DCGS-A configurations specifically designed to support senior commander's (JTF, UEy, and tactical-level higher headquarters similar to division-level organizations of today [UEx]) in the forward areas to broker ISR support between fixed sites, forward, and adjacent units. For example, the mobile system could have forward data links to sensors, analyst workstations, and ISR software tools to support the Joint or combined arms commanders in a forward area. At brigade and below-level organizations (termed "Units of Action [UAs]") with MI elements, DCGS-A will be primarily ISR software applications and workstations to enable MI soldiers to perform their traditional missions, while mounted in vehicles to support maneuver commanders enroute and on-the-move as needed.

Within all Army units, DCGS-A embedded software will assist soldiers to perform ISR functions in the FCS, eventually Land Warrior, and in the future BCS. Soldiers using ISR applications will be able to task and manage sensors; post, process, and exploit data from these sensors; and direct and disseminate information where it needs to go, while enroute and on the move. DCGS-A will facilitate and enhance collaboration at every level; however, each echelon could operate independently.

When Will DCGS-A Exist?

Many of the capabilities described above do not exist today. For example, the DCGS-A concept relies on a communications network--the global information grid--being built now and it does not yet extend to deployed tactical units with sufficient bandwidth to move large amounts of data and information. Automated information-fusion capabilities is another area requiring further development, and for the foreseeable future, a "man in the loop" or analyst will be needed to apply reason and judgment to tactical problems. Interoperability challenges also exist with our sister Services and the national Intelligence Community.

The initial operating capability (IOC) for a fully functional DCGS-A achieving the basic or threshold requirements is currently set for 2010. This IOC is based on dependencies with other Future Force systems--such as the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)--and on the availability of emerging science and technology advances such as automated data-fusion functions for use. However, as part of Army efforts to "reset" and improve the Current Force, efforts are currently underway to accelerate available DCGS-A capabilities into units now and in the next few years.

Initial DCGS-A steps are underway at U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command's (INSCOM's) 513th and 501st MI Brigades, and the 66th MI Group, where fixed sites based on the DCGS-A concept are supporting operational forces now. Furthermore, this year (2004) in XVIII Airborne Corps and next year (2005) in III Corps, the units will network current ground stations to improve interoperability, data-sharing, and collaboration. There are also plans under consideration to expand on these developments by establishing additional fixed sites and to network the current ground systems at other corps, in the divisions and brigades, and to push additional ISR processing capabilities into maneuver battalions (see Figure 3) over the next two years to upgrade the capabilities of units deploying to fight the Global War on Terrorism. These initial steps will begin the transformation of ISR networked capabilities but the vision for DCGS-A is a global, Joint, interoperable, ISR network linking sensors "mud to space" with Army, Joint, interagency, and multinational users, leveraging the "power of the network" down to the individual soldier and back to a national intelligence agency as needed to support operations, ultimately enabling "situationally aware" commanders to "See First, Understand First, so they can Act First, and Finish Decisively."
Figure 3. Current DCGS-A Key Milestones to 2012.


(c) Fixed site established at 66th MI Group, Europe.

(c) Operational Requirements Document approved by Joint Staff.

(c) Current force enhancement at XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg.


(c) All Services required to implement the common DOD-wide DCGS
Integration (software) Backbone (DIB) to facilitate cross-Service

(c) ISR enhancements for current deploying forces.

(c) Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) ground station capability required

(c) ISR enhancements for current deploying forces


(c) Embedded capability in Future Combat System (FCS).

(c) DCGS-A Milestone C or "full production decision".


(c) Objective DCGS-A Initial Operational Capability (IOC) per ORD.


(c) Objective DCGS-A Full Operational Capability (FOC).


DCGS-A is a future concept that is rapidly becoming a reality. It will be the centerpiece of all Army ISR processing in the future, is part of an ISR network supporting all echelons, and is "Joint interoperable." MI soldiers and other combat, combat support, and combat service support soldiers requiring ISR information and capabilities will be the DCGS-A users. The system will be configured in fixed sites, mobile elements, and embedded software applications on battle command workstations. It will ultimately provide the functionality that provides threat, terrain, and weather information through all operational phases (alert, enroute, entry, decisive operations, conflict termination, and transition), thus enabling the force to--

[] Find, engage, and kill targets--reducing the sensor-to-shooter timeline.

[] See over the next hill.

[] Predict opposing force actions--providing the basis for the "running intelligence estimate."

[] Conduct three-dimensional mission rehearsals.

[] Plan, task, synchronize, and direct the use of ISR collection assets as well as control specified technical sensors.

Editors note: Effective 7 July 2004, the Change of Charter Includes a change in name. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) System Manager (TSM) Joint STARS and DCGS-A became the TSM Sensor Processing.

Colonel Steve Bond completed his tour as the TRADOC System Manager (TSM) for Joint STARS. Common Ground Station. Joint Tactical Terminal, and the Distributed Common Ground System-Army on 7 July 2004. One of his major responsibilities in this position was to lead the user requirement developments for DCGS-A and to obtain Army and Joint Staff approval for this future system. Readers may contact him via E-mail at or through the TSM office at (520) 533-2480 or DSN 821-2480.
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Title Annotation:Army Military Intelligence; information technology enabled services
Author:Bond, Stephen J.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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