military and intelligence agencies have made great strides in the development and exploitation of geospatial intelligence over the past several years, and the community’s focus is now shifting to how it will do more with less in the years ahead.
Much of the development in the field has come as a result of increased funding since 2002 from the supplemental defense spending bills used to support the war efforts in
. Knowing that influx of cash will at some point tail off, the
national security community is seeking to increase collaboration across the boundaries of specific agencies and commands to the benefit of the greater mission.
The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) serves as the central node for geospatial intelligence, which is the analysis and exploitation of information on physical features and geographically referenced activities on Earth. Its director, Navy Vice Adm. Robert Murrett, is also designated as the functional manager of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG), which encompasses the technology, policies, systems, data and people involved in producing geospatial intelligence.
The NGA’s Office of Geospatial Intelligence Management is responsible for running the NSG and developing the standards that make all of the systems and products within it work together. That job has never been as big or as important as it is today, as the
is more reliant than ever on geospatial intelligence and the amount of data being collected has grown at an exponential rate, the office’s director, Mary Irwin said.
The office began working to define the NSG in 1996 – when the NGA was created via the merger of several military and intelligence agencies – but it was several years before it was able to come up with an approach for harnessing the full range of often-disparate geospatial activities and organizations and get them operating in a more coordinated fashion, Irwin said.
“Around 2002, we started to focus on what functional management meant, what this geospatial community is and what we are responsible for,” Irwin said. “I would say by now we have matured to a point where we can really get our arms around functional management for Admiral Murrett and the geospatial community.”
Irwin holds monthly NSG meetings with representatives from all of its stake-holders, which include the military services, the combatant commands, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and more than a dozen intelligence agencies. Also included at the meetings are certain civil agencies and international partners;
Those meetings help set the issue agenda for the NSG senior management council, a group that meets several times a year and includes Murrett, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and top leadership from other military and intelligence agencies.
The information advantage the
has gained from technology has not come without a price. One major issue the senior leadership council is now wrestling with is how to store and move the huge amounts of full motion video data being taken by unmanned aerial vehicles, for example.
“The ability to capture and process the data is a big deal,” Irwin said. “It’s a huge obligation. We need to find out what is the smartest way to deal with it.”
Finding efficiencies is another major area of focus at the meetings. Recent advances have helped reduce the number of people involved in the exploitation of geospatial information, but the technology is still in its infancy and can go much further in the area of automated analysis, Irwin said.
Meanwhile, finding training and retaining more high-quality analysts will always be an issue.
“There are not going to be enough resources down the road to do it all by yourself,” Irwin said. “By coming together as a group, if we can figure out what everyone has to offer here, we can start bonusing off of each other’s talents.”
One way NGA plans to do that is by bringing analysts from the military services into the agency’s training program starting in 2010. The idea is to better enable the military services and intelligence agencies to help themselves and each other and to relieve the NGA of some of the burden of having to solve problems for everyone.
“If we can carve up the pie, we can be much more effective by not duplicating each other’s efforts,” Irwin said. “That’s where I see us going. It’s the unified operations model that we’re working toward.”
While the hurdles facing the NSG and its goals are known today, the challenges of tomorrow are certain to be different as new technologies and new adversaries emerge. As such, the NSG will forever be a work in progress.