ST LOUIS – Commercial satellite imagery is helping NATO address its need for persistent monitoring in spite of cost, technical and licensing issues.

“NATO is not all that wealthy and the price for commercial satellite imagery is pretty high,” Paul Bowman, who leads the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cell for NATO’s Battlefield Intelligence Collection and Exploitation Systems, said May 22 at the GEOINT Symposium here. “There’s a limit to how much NATO is going to be able to invest in that.”

Bowman said he’s hopeful that prices for commercial satellite imagery and analytics will decrease as the number of satellite and analytics providers grows.

“We’ve done a lot of experimentation with some AI solutions to speed up the analysis process, but they’re really expensive,” Bowman said. “Some of the really good ones cost a lot of money. We’re hoping that also becomes more affordable.”

In addition, NATO seeks to acquire satellite imagery through the Alliance Persistent Surveillance from Space. NATO is asking its members to contribute funding and satellite data to establish a virtual constellation called Aquila. The goal is to affordably speed up data collection, sharing and analysis among NATO Allies and with the NATO command structure.

Licensing Hurdles

Varied end-user licensing agreements also pose challenges for NATO.

Since NATO does not possess its own intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites, “it’s absolutely necessary to be able to collaborate and share all that data,” Bowman said.

During a NATO military exercise, Unified Vision 2020, four companies provided satellite imagery.  

“Every one of them had a different end-user license agreement,” Bowman said.

In order to ensure the various datasets would only be shared with the appropriate parties, NATO established separate servers.

“I know everybody has their own interests, but hopefully there will be some kind of convergence on end-user license agreements that makes it easier to use in a coalition environment,” Bowman said.

Technical Issues

Technical difficulties are less of a problem. But the more that data adheres to widely accepted standards, the easier it is to share, Bowman said.

During an upcoming NATO exercise involving 18 nations, for example, individual nations will be gathering, sharing, processing, exploiting and sharing data.

“Without those standards, all of the nations cannot share,” Bowman said.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...