A new strategy to improve the DoD and intelligence community (IC) use of private sector geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) aims to increase Pentagon and IC awareness of the utility of commercial imagery and related analytic service alternatives to classified, government-owned and operated sources, an official with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) said this week.
Before the publication in November of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence Enterprise Commercial GEOINT Strategy, “there wasn’t anything written down” and with frequent job turnover in the government and military “unless you write it down and have something documented, there’s this constant sort of reeducating that needs to happen about a lot of different things,” Gary Dunow, associate director for enterprise at NGA, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Dunow, who a year ago directed the drafting of the commercial GEOINT strategy, highlighted that the document also captures the goal of having “unity of effort” within the government “so we’re not spending money multiple times on the same capability.”
The strategy includes four pillars, which are unity of effort, diversifying sources and leveraging partnerships, improving data security, and helping grow commercial capabilities.
Dunow said that the strategy will also improve overall decision-making among the GEOINT user community to spend money more wisely. Some users have their own way of acquiring capabilities and think their way is better than others but they lack “insight into how certain processes or capabilities work” and “we want to make sure everybody has all the same information so that everybody’s making smart decisions from that perspective as well,” he said.
The diversifying sources pillar of the strategy mentions a supplier matrix, which already exists and gives “insight and transparency” into what’s available commercially and what the capabilities are, Dunow said. This “visibility” helps users align their needs with capabilities that exist, he said.
The supplier matrix also opens up conversations within the user community to understand not just where imagery and services can be acquired but who may already be purchasing that data so that instead of buying it twice it can be shared by leveraging licensing agreements with the commercial providers, Dunow said.
Another thing the new strategy hopefully does is “change the demand signal across the community and move it away from national capabilities are the only answer for some of these questions to we need to pick the right source at the right time when it’s available for the right effect,” he said.
The strategy has “a lot of connective tissue” with a strategic vision document the NGA published in August that provides a roadmap out to 2035 with three desired end states, Dunow said. The end states in the 2035 GEOINT Concept of Operations are sensor to effect, an integrated GEOINT operating environment, and GEOINT superiority from space.
The commercial strategy will “allow us to consider commercial as an equal playing field with national capabilities and other capabilities and other capabilities that are available to us when we try to get to the three end states that we’re trying to achieve through that 2035 CONOPS,” he said.
The availability of space-based commercial GEOINT capabilities and technologies has exploded over the past few years and the U.S. government, including the intelligence community, is taking advantage of imagery and data analytics that the commercial sector has available for government, industrial and other uses.
Given that the commercial strategy essentially documents what the NGA and others in the intelligence community have been practicing for a while, Dunow said its currently a mixed bag in terms of educating the larger user community about being aware of all the potential tools available.
“There are folks that have spent their whole careers using only classified capabilities and so it’s hard for them to break that culture and the way they’ve always done things but there has been progress on that front,” he said. “I’d say there are people who are coming in with new mission sets who are coming in with minds and eyes wide open and in some cases doing sort of the inverse and making commercial the thing that they lean on because it’s readily available and easy to use in the open, and so their using that as a priority over national capability. And what we want is the sort of the middle ground and we have a good group of folks who are in that middle ground as well.”
With the new strategy published, Dunow said that there aren’t any new policies or working groups forthcoming but noted that the existing National GEOINT Committee, which includes the Defense Department and intelligence community GEOINT users that the NGA works with, will take a closer look at how commercial capabilities are prioritized, spending priorities, what capabilities are pursued, and policy improvements to ensure “we are being efficient and effective with those resources,” such as “how we look at the licensing agreements to make sure that the data is as shareable as possible across government entities that have similar information needs.”