What you missed: GEOINT Community Forum

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New technologies and products are being developed commercially to help turn vast amounts of information into geospatial intelligence.

At a forum held this week, representatives from the private sector, government and academia gathered online (of course) to discuss current challenges and initiatives associated with these commercial sources.

It was an opportunity to hear directly from government agencies procuring commercial products. What are they looking for? What are their priorities?

A delegation from Ursa Space attended the event, which was organized by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, and titled, “The Convergence of Commercial Content with AI/ML to Provide Clarity.” 

Here’s a selection of quotes by keynote speakers that stood out as noteworthy: 

Brigadier General Steven Butow, Space Portfolio Director, Defense Innovation Unit

“There’s [satellite] imagery and there’s analysis. It’s the analysis that creates the intelligence. A picture from a camera or a picture from a spacecraft by itself doesn’t do that. We use the term ‘commercial GEOINT’ maybe too liberally. It’s important as we go into the future, especially working with people in the policymaking arena, that we can differentiate a remote sensing product versus commercial GEOINT, which is analysis derived from open sources, especially in this imagery area.”

“Being able to have lots of satellites poses another problem, and it’s one of the most significant problems of today, that of latency. We need to get information to and from the warfighter much better than we’ve done in the past.”

“Over time, as we stared at the battlespace, we started to see patterns of life, interesting patterns of behavior, which became indicators of interesting things that were potentially to come. And the development of algorithms to do that helped to build a commanders’ understanding of what’s going on in that battlespace. What if we could do that country-wide or ocean-wide or global-wide, and use that information in interesting ways?”


Stacey Dixon, Deputy Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

“From industry and academia, we’d like to see more companies offering tested and validated market-ready analytics that fuse multiple sources of commercially derived and commercially available data to meet our needs. Needs like target monitoring, activity alerting, and all of this will help us maintain our advantage.”

“For a very long time we’ve been an imagery analysis organization...Images are still extremely important, but they’re part of a larger set of data that we’re trying to take into our mission space. Thinking of ourselves as a data organization that also has a lot of imagery as part of that data is how we’re going to get to where we need to, which is to have more automation.”

“Leveraging commercial data creates superb opportunities for us to further ensure how we partner with industry and how industry partners with us. These opportunities let us explore new possible solutions to address challenges and missions critical to NGA. It’s energized us beyond looking at traditional imagery partners, and we’re seeking more data and analytical service partners.”


Sue Gordon, Former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Office of the Director of National Intelligence

“Our adversaries have one of two attributes that we don’t. Number one is we actually have a bigger installed base in terms of how government functions, how we operate, than many of them do. Some adversaries can just implement modernly because they haven’t been doing it for so long, so they have the advantage of not having to overcome organizational inertia. The second thing is there’s a huge difference in our values and our rule of law compared to some of our adversaries. So the notion of being presented with this world of possibility of data and data use without the constraints we feel either from a value perspective or a policy perspective, and with a technological base that’s equivalent, they’re going to jump and they’re going to use it differently ...That’s the risk and you see it whether in China or Russia, both of whom are pretty capable and have been at this a long time..”

"The opportunity goes with all the downsides. We do know how to do this. One of the great strengths of America and the American military and the National Security community is that we have been operating globally for a long time. We do know how to put things into use....”

 

Ellen McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, US Department of State

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said he was “tired of reading pages of very well-written prose. He wanted to see the data. That’s part of what {our} challenge is, in terms of helping the Department move to be able to visualize the data and show the intelligence in new and different ways.”

“The use of commercial satellite imagery by INR to create analytical products using sharable resources enables policymakers to conduct their most effective diplomacy. Our US diplomats can walk up to the negotiating table, set down a copy of a geoint product and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on, let’s talk.’ Showing commercial satellite imagery can allow us to go one step further and say, ‘Here see for yourself,’ which we all know has a power of its own to convince the Bureau the realities of what’s happening on the ground.” 

“INR’s Office of the Geographer uses commercial satellite imagery extensively in its boundary analysis operation. Imagery is often used to confirm features on the ground that are used for interpreting legal boundary treaties, and to answer questions, for example, as to which side of a boundary is a military outpost or border installation.”


Peter Meund, Director, Commercial Systems Program Office, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

“We’re excited on the commercial radar side to lay the groundwork for understanding what industry can bring to bear.” 

“Very soon we’ll be issuing a Request for Information (RFI) on commercial radar capabilities that are available now for us to purchase. We’re going to use that to increase our understanding of current and future capabilities, and principally, SAR imagery, but also detection and moving targets.”

“We’re looking to put into place study contracts to validate the assertions that come back in the RFIs, improve our modelling and simulations, and to make sure that we understand not only what we believe the the commercial providers can do, but how they would all work together, both in concert with themselves and across industry and in cooperation with government systems as well.”

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Geoffrey Craig