At the end of October 2015, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) released its new strategy for implementation of commercial geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) capabilities to balance the ability to meet new demands for speed as well as ongoing traditional requirements. In the publication announcement, NGA Director Robert Cardillo noted that, “Innovators in industry are developing remarkable capabilities and services that will offer a wealth of unclassified data sources and new opportunities. NGA will strengthen its partnerships with innovators to explore new ways to access, analyze and evaluate data in support of diverse customer needs.”
The strategy addresses increased needs for services and opportunities for big data analytics, focusing on unclassified GEOINT spanning space, air, surface, subsurface, and cyber domains. Reliance on commercial providers is expected to deliver rapid innovation and strengthen GEOINT solutions through data and services. Tapping into the increased coverage available through commercial sources will enable more persistent GEOINT. Involving increased numbers of commercial satellites and satellite operators are expected to improve architecture resiliency. Greater commercial diversity, variation in growth strategies, and independent technology advancement will also raise the level of overall resilience. The critical role commercial products and services currently play in NGA’s mission is expected to continue into the future. A GEOINT Concept of Operations is expected to be forthcoming and will underscore NGA’s focus on harnessing unclassified sources as a foundation for global GEOINT through 2022.
The strategy outlines four implementation essentials, addressing collaboration goals and future. Each of the imperatives further moves towards the overarching goals of greater utilization of commercial solutions and building collaboration among intelligence and defense stakeholders:
• “Learn and understand the evolution of the commercial GEOINT industry as it occurs through a collaborative relationship network that: engages and informs our industry partners; become a force multiplier for our government partners; and ensures we satisfy the evolving needs of our customers in a timely manner.”
o Be engaged and proactive in understanding commercial developments but not prescriptive.
o Industry Innovation Advocate will be responsible for messaging around NGA’s requirements.
o Execution of plans to increase use of commercial solutions will align with the GEOINT Solutions Marketplace Initiative.
o NGA’s relationship with industry partners will continue to vary based on the nuances of each company’s expertise.
o Collaboration with oversight and policymakers, particularly related to satellite operations.
• “Explore, experiment, and evaluate commercial GEOINT data and products, analytic services, and knowledge building methodologies as they evolve, to discover the art of the possible, the reality of their potential, and the feasibility of integrating them into the NSG and ASG.”
o Review commercial landscape for GEOINT and plan for integration of capabilities. Acquire pre-operational test and evaluation data and services to assess operational utility, identify integration challenges, and explore new prospects.
o Collaborate to develop a cross-community understanding of needs and capabilities.
o Launch a series of challenges to engage the workforce in investigating mission requirements.
o Engage assessment teams for classified environments that are shaping research and development.
• “Acquire and deliver mission relevant commercial GEOINT capabilities that are sufficiently mature and can be efficiently integrated—always with the goal of improving mission success for NGA’s customers and adapting to their evolving needs.”
o Maintain agile and adaptable acquisition approach.
o Acquisition of commercial GEOINT will evolve over the coming decade, shaped by the customer needs, technical assessments, and capability maturity.
• “Adopt and institutionalize commercial GEOINT capabilities as a core component of our mission-driven operations.”
o Engage organizational leadership from across the NGA directorates to modify architecture, codify tradecraft and processes, develop training, and address change management throughout the transformation.
The strategy document also draws out key milestones for four phases over the next few years. In addition to these steps, the document maps out dependencies and risks for each of the activities. As we recently discussed, the move to commercial solutions points to a push for increased savings and improvements to operational efficiency. While the shift is expected to reduce costs in the long term, it represents a significant near term opportunity for technology vendors engaged with intelligence customers and equipped to support this strategic vision.