Airborne ISR – Trajectory Magazine We are the official publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) – the nonprofit, educational organization supporting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft Fri, 19 Jan 2018 19:39:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Airborne ISR – Trajectory Magazine 32 32 127732085 Operationalizing Project Maven Fri, 12 Jan 2018 15:24:20 +0000 AI algorithms make their combat debut

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The U.S. military has deployed an advanced artificial intelligence system to the battlefield for the first time.

In April 2017, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work established a new Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team for the Department of Defense. Dubbed “Project Maven” and led by Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director for defense intelligence, warfighter support with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, the initiative explores ways the military could use deep learning and neural networks to extract insights from intelligence data, support warfighters, and ultimately defeat ISIS. Within two months, the team received funding from Congress. In December, after six months of research and development, the group deployed to the Middle East its first mission-ready product: an object recognition algorithm for identifying features in video footage from ScanEagle reconnaissance drones.

Imagery labeling and sorting is a lucrative task for data analysts, but also a tedious one that can lead to burnout and fatigue-driven errors. By automating the object detection process, military operators can analyze larger quantities of data faster and maintain accuracy while redirecting human energy to more abstract areas. 

A week after combat trials began, the algorithm was able to identify people, vehicles, and different building types with an accuracy rate of about 80 percent, Defense One reported. The Maven team has paired its algorithm with a Navy and Marine Corps tool called Minotaur, which geo-registers an object’s coordinates and displays its exact location on a map.

As testing continues in the next few months, the algorithm will be refined and deployed to more U.S. Special Operations Command teams for use with larger tactical UAVs and eventually ISR satellites. The system will also be introduced to other data types (such as radar) for use across more operational contexts.

While the applied use cases are still narrow and require careful oversight, Project Maven’s early success is a sign that AI may soon play a key role in military combat. Military competitors such as China and Russia have taken interest in the technology as well, reinforcing the idea that the future landscape of war will rely heavily on human-machine teaming.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 11 Dec 2017 17:32:56 +0000 SpaceFlight to Launch 11 Satellites in January; Boundless and Monsanto Partner to Support Open Source Community; Avenza Maps Launches in GEOINT App Store; More

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SpaceFlight to Launch 11 Satellites in January

Rideshare service provider SpaceFlight announced the launch of 11 spacecraft from India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle is planned for early January. Systems to be launched include Finland’s ICEYE-X1 SAR microsatellite, four Spire Global Lemur-2 cubesats, Astro Digital’s Landmapper-BC3, AMSAT’s Fox-1D cubesat, and others. The cubesat integration is already complete and the cargo is currently en route to India where it will await takeoff.

Boundless and Monsanto Partner to Support Open Source Community

Boundless and agriculture company Monsanto announced a partnership to contribute code to the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) community. Among the contributions are: an OAuth Plugin that enables QuantumGIS users to determine what data on the system is accessible to the user; a CKAN plugin for QuantumGIS; and a Geoserver XAuth plugin. These codes will help establish smoother authentication systems and provide easier access to data for open-source users.

General Dynamics Awarded U.S. Air Force Operations Contract

General Dynamics Information Technology won the U.S. Air Force Distributed Mission Operations Center contract for infrastructure, development, and engineering support at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. The ID/IQ contract is valued at $47 million, and enlists General Dynamics to develop and maintain simulation software and hardware, build network infrastructure, and integrate a live, virtual combat environment for warfighter training.

CACI Wins Army Airborne C4ISR Task Order

CACI International was awarded a $91 million task order to support the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center’s flight activity, primarily focusing on surveillance and communications. CACI will provide systems integration, training support, and electronic and mechanical engineering design services. The company will also test new technologies in areas such as radio frequency, electro-optical, thermal, radar, and acoustic systems.

Avenza Maps Launches in GEOINT App Store

Avenza Systems has partnered with NGA to bring its Avenza Maps offline mapping application to the GEOINT App Store for download by defense and intelligence community users. The app allows users to import and access proprietary or classified maps, and includes unlimited access to the Avenza Map Store’s existing repository of digital maps. User-owned maps can be uploaded to the store for sale at the user’s discretion.

Northrop Grumman Retains Army Logistics Contract

Northrop Grumman will retain its nine-year, $750 million Army logistics services contract for support of aircraft used in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. The defense contractor will be responsible for program management, systems engineering, supply chain management, and aircraft modifications and upgrades to 75 ISR aircraft.

Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:44:45 +0000 Congress Introduces Geospatial Data Act; IceEye to Provide Airborne Imagery to DoD; CA Technologies Issues Smart Government Challenge; More

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Congress Introduces Geospatial Data Act

Congress introduced federal legislation that aims to fill decades-old gaps in the governance of geospatial systems and technology. The Geospatial Data Act’s two bills, SB2128 and HR4395, would mandate the congressional oversight of the federal government’s spending on geospatial programs, encourage collaboration between agencies, and ensure public and commercial access to geospatial data through GeoPlatform. 

IceEye to Provide Airborne Imagery to DoD

Finnish imagery startup IceEye announced it will supply the U.S. DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) unit with Earth imaging services through a new U.S. subsidiary. For now, the partnership will primarily entail the airborne collection of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data capable of persisting through clouds and inclement weather. Additionally, IceEye continues to develop SAR microsatellites, targeting a proof-of-concept launch before the end of 2017.

CA Technologies Issues Smart Government Challenge

CA Technologies announced its Smart Government Challenge, an open call for developers to submit innovative ideas for the U.S. government to use open-source software to improve the “citizen experience.” Such solutions may incorporate remote sensing into public transport systems or data banks. Up to five finalists will win $5,000 and the chance to compete for a $75,000 grand prize as well as an immersive training boot camp. Applications will be accepted through the end of December.

Airbus to Produce Digital Maps for French Defense Procurement Agency

Airbus and its four partners won a 10-year Sysnav contract to produce digital mapping components of an information system for the French Defense Procurement Agency. Called SI Geode4D, the system will be an active, one-stop portal for geography, ocean, and weather data and will enable a common operating picture throughout the Ministry of Defense.

Presagis Selects Tech Providers for GIS Data Management & Visualization

Presagis announced the selection of Esri, Vricon, and LuxCarta as technology providers for new GIS data management and visualization offerings. Presagis will leverage Esri’s CityEngine, LuxCarta’s terrain modeling, and Vricon’s point clouds and imagery to transform data into various training environments. The resulting data representations will be more realistic, responsive, and accessible.

Dewberry Hiring GEOINT Professionals

Dewberry is hiring geospatial practitioners in support of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Multi-Intelligence Analytical and Collection Support Services and Janus geographic content management programs. Individuals with GEOINT production experience and security clearance are in demand. View current openings.

Photo Credit: IceEye

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OGSystems: West Coast Vibes in Washington Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:49:53 +0000 Q&A with Garrett Pagon, co-founder and president

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Q: What led you to found OGSystems?

About 13 years ago, I was just out of the Air Force and Omar Balkissoon, now OGSystems CEO and co-founder, had just completed his role at the Naval Research Lab. We were both contractors working on a big Intelligence Community (IC) project for about a year, and nothing was getting done. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an all-day meeting, the result of which was another all-day meeting. It was so frustrating. That opened our eyes to what could be done differently. Thinking about a better way to do things led us to start our own business. We realized that customers don’t want these five- to 10-year projects, because by the time they’re delivered, the technology is outdated. So, when we were in our 20s, we created a West Coast-style entrepreneurial, collaborative company to show that innovation is possible in the government and IC.

Q: What are some of your customers’ most pressing problems?

Ninety percent of our customers are in government, defense, and security. On the geospatial side, the biggest issue we’re seeing is how to deal with the exploding amount of location-based data. How do you derive information from that data, how do you make sense of the conclusions, how do you deliver intelligence that’s actionable? That’s where people are struggling. That’s one of the reasons we built BlueGlass—which takes unclassified, location-based data and uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and pattern recognition to come up with predictive analytics. That frees up our customers’ analysts to do higher-level work.

Another thing we are starting to see is the move from two-dimensional to three-dimensional representation. In 2015, we acquired Urban Robotics, whose PeARL airborne imaging system provides real-time tactical pictures. We also developed a three-dimensional technology that’s being used in theater right now. The next step is doing that for any data type as a cloud-based product—something no one else is doing.

Q: Given that you emphasize a nimble approach to solving difficult problems, are most of your contracts on shorter timelines?

We prefer the shorter ones. When it’s a three- to six-month time frame, it’s really about delivering results. If it doesn’t work, you should cut it off. That’s one of the problems with longer projects; there’s inertia around them that leads to them lasting longer than they should. If it’s successful, you scale up. If not, you find alternatives. We do have a couple of five-year programs, but I don’t want to wait five years to develop and deliver to the customer. Well before then, you need to figure out if you’re on the right track.

Q: How do you stay innovative?

The biggest aspects are workforce and culture. You can’t just say we’re going to pivot and learn from our mistakes unless people aren’t afraid of losing their jobs. I don’t care if you’re a junior staff officer or a senior satellite engineer—we want our people to always try to do things more efficiently. So it’s about saying, “OK, we’re going to try new things and you’re going to be rewarded.” This allows us to build things for the customer faster than the competition. And it’s not just the big things. We see it in things like our contract with U.S. Special Operations Command to deploy hardware. We got kudos from the customer because we reduced the QRC (Quick Reaction Capability) process from four hours to two. That’s really what the company is all about—bringing innovation to all areas of national security.

Q: Can innovation be taught?

We started OGS University in 2015 and now offer two courses a month. They’re held at our office for customers, employees, and partners, and they cover geospatial topics and approaches to innovation such as our Immersive Engineering methodology. The idea is to educate everyone and really break down the process—for example, showing participants how they can use technology to make projects shorter.

Q: You’re trying instill a West Coast ethos in D.C. Have you experienced any pushback?

Not so much pushback as not knowing what to do about it. There’s a huge opportunity for Department of Defense (DoD) innovators—that’s what we call ourselves, versus DoD contractors—but the biggest drawback to being first to market is the community is still risk averse. The mission is critical, and often the cost of failure is high, so it’s a balance of doing things quickly and reliably. The IC hasn’t become totally West Coast yet, but we’re pushing forward. The government’s No. 1 evaluation criteria in four of our last five bids was innovation. That’s telling.

Q: Describe your office and how it’s unconventional by D.C. standards.

Everything’s open. When you walk in, you can see everyone else. There’s glass everywhere. The best thing is that we have a lot of unscripted collisions in the office. For example, we built Scholaris—a semantic search tool to mine historic company data—because the proposal team was talking informally to the software team about a challenge they were facing. The message is that anyone in the company can be innovative.

Q: How do you keep abreast of GEOINT news and trends?

By reading trajectory! And by building a lot of new things and interacting with developers. When you’re out there building something for the unclassified field, you’re ahead. We also have a strong focus on communication and transparency. We put out a weekly video to our company’s 350 employees, have weekly get-togethers at contract sites, send out weekly emails, and have an active Twitter account. This is also where the benefit of membership with organizations like USGIF come into play. These organizations provide opportunities for thought leadership and networking with potential partners, customers, and job candidates. That leads to personal information exchange and is one of the most important ways ideas travel.

Q: What do you consider most exciting about GEOINT today?

It’s cool to see the new providers and the democratization, if you can call it that, of GEOINT. The barriers to entry are lower. When we founded OGSystems, GEOINT was mostly military, and you had to be an expert in all areas. Today, you can just be a software provider or data provider, and because of the cloud, you don’t need a lot of infrastructure. The technology is changing quickly.

Q: Your biography says you are teaching your sons how to build the “ultimate tree house.” Are you a big maker and builder outside of the office?

Yeah, I love pulling things apart and putting them back together. When I got out of the Air Force I thought about being a builder of houses, but fortunately it didn’t work out. It’s been a little bit of a trial with my boys—sometimes it’s forced family fun. But at the end of the day, it’s nice to have built something you can sleep in.

Featured image: Co-founders Garrett Pagon (front right) and Omar Balkissoon after cutting the ribbon at OGSystems’ grand opening open house at the company’s Chantilly, Va., headquarters in December 2015. (Credit: OGSystems)

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:13:06 +0000 NGA Seeks Cloud Development Support; Engility Wins DIA Contract; IARPA Announces Updates to Functional Map of the World Challenge; ESA and Radiant.Earth Partner to Support Sustainable Development

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NGA Seeks Cloud Development Support

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is seeking unclassified cloud development vendors to deliver support to 40 individuals in St. Louis, Mo. The agency aims to award a one-year base contract with four option years. Responses to the notice are due Oct. 31.

Engility Wins Defense Intelligence Agency Contract

Engility won a digital forensics contract renewal with Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Engility will analyze multimedia files extracted from digital devices to support DIA missions across the defense, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, and will provide IT infrastructure including cloud solutions and enterprise technology. DIA first awarded the contract in 2011. The $14 million renewal has a one-year base and four option years.

IARPA Announces Updates to Functional Map of the World Challenge

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) announced the scoring process for its Functional Map of the World Challenge, which seeks algorithms to detect and label points of interest in satellite imagery. Participants will be scored based on their ability to accurately categorize portions of imagery and can submit solutions through Dec. 31. In concert with this announcement, IARPA released one of its largest annotated imagery datasets that participants will use to train and test their algorithms.

ESA and Radiant.Earth Partner to Support Sustainable Development

The European Space Agency and Radiant.Earth announced a cooperation to better track the progress of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The partnership will work to strengthen data literacy by using mutually shared platforms and satellite imagery to analyze SDG objectives.

CACI Awarded Army ISR Task Order

CACI was awarded a $91 million task order to provide support to the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center Flight Activity. This four-year task order, awarded under the Rapid Response-Third Generation contract vehicle, represents continuing work in the company’s surveillance and reconnaissance market area.

Berico Technologies Wins Place on Multi-Award NGA Contract

Berico Technologies won a place on an analytical support contract for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Berico is one of several partners who will provide data science analysis and collection management support to NGA and other government agencies. The contract is worth a combined maximum of $977.6 million.

Photo Credit: ESA

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 14 Aug 2017 20:38:27 +0000 Seven Companies Selected to Offer GEOINT Services Through GSA; Raytheon Wins Contract for Global Hawk Sensor; Harris Supplies Payload for GPS III Satellite; More

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Seven Companies Selected to Offer GEOINT Services Through GSA

Seven companies are among the first to offer GEOINT solutions under the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Earth Observations Solutions Special Item Number (SIN) 132-41. The addition of the new SIN is part of a refresh to the GSA’s IT 70 Schedule and is designed to address the federal government’s need for Earth observation services. According to GSA, the companies include Aero Graphics Inc., Airbus Defense and Space, Leidos, Planet, Skyline Software Systems, Vricon, and Wiser.

Raytheon Wins Contract for Global Hawk Sensor

Raytheon received a $25.9 million contract for modifications and retrofitting of sensors on the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aerial vehicle. According to UPI, Raytheon will upgrade the Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite and retrofit the Enhanced Electro-Optical Receiving Unit on Global Hawks.

Harris Supplies Navigation Payload for GPS III Satellite

Harris Corp. delivered the first of 10 advanced navigation payloads to Lockheed Martin. The payloads are intended to increase accuracy, signal power, and jamming resistance for U.S. Air Force GPS III satellites. They feature a mission data unit that enables signals three times more accurate than those on current GPS satellites. According to the Harris press release, the new payloads also boost satellite signal power, increase jamming resistance by eight times, and help extend the satellite’s lifespan. The payload will be integrated into GPS III Space Vehicle 3 this summer.

KeyW Awarded AFRL Airborne ISR Contract

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) awarded KeyW a $24 million contract to conduct research in multi-sensor multi-domain fusion, including radio frequency, electro-optical and infrared sensing, and exploitation for airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). KeyW will support AFRL in extending the body of knowledge in multi-domain sensing for autonomy, and will deliver hardware and software components to provide solutions to the U.S. Air Force’s future air dominance and anti-access/area denial challenges.

Peer Intel

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) named Justin Poole its new deputy director upon the departure of Susan Gordon, who was recently named the new principal deputy director of national intelligence. Poole previously served as director of the agency’s Source Operations and Management Directorate. Having worked at NGA since 1991, Poole has held leadership positions in strategic oversight, business management, customer services, and operations.

Raytheon’s board of directors elected Robert Work as a director. Work was most recently deputy secretary of defense from 2014 to July 2017.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:47:31 +0000 Boundless Partners with Mapbox; Leidos Awarded $64 Million U.S. Army Task Order; Soyuz-2 Launches, Releases 73 Satellites; Carahsoft Offers Webinar Series

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Boundless Partners with Mapbox

Boundless announced a strategic partnership with Mapbox that will allow Boundless customers to access Mapbox base maps within the Boundless Connect ecosystem. Mapbox content will be available through Boundless Connect plugin or Boundless Suite and Exchange subscriptions. Available Mapbox base maps include Streets, Outdoors, Light and Dark, Satellite, and Satellite Streets.

Additionally, Boundless unveiled the next generation of its desktop GIS software with the release of Boundless Desktop 1.1. The update includes increased support for public key infrastructure authentication, new options for styling, new image discovery and terrain analysis toolbars, and access to Mapbox base maps.

Leidos Awarded $64 Million U.S. Army Task Order

Leidos was awarded a $64 million task order from the U.S. Army to integrate, test, and demonstrate three Airborne Reconnaissance Low-Enhanced (ARL-E) systems under the ARL-E program. ARL-E is a manned, multi-intelligent airborne platform that provides the ability to detect, locate, classify/identify, and track surface targets in day/night, near-all-weather conditions. Leidos will integrate the previously delivered mission equipment payload onto the DHC-8 aircraft, including testing and delivery of the complete ARL-E system.

Soyuz-2 Launches, Releases 73 Satellites

Soyuz-2 lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan July 14 carrying 73 satellites, including spacecraft for four companies’ small sat constellations, reports SpaceNews. This was the largest number of satellites flown on a single Russian rocket to date. The primary payload was the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite, accompanied by 72 small sat secondary payloads. Among the secondary payloads were 48 Dove satellites from Planet, eight Lemur satellites from Spire, and three CICERO GPS radio occultation satellites from GeoOptics. The launch also included two Corvus-BC medium-resolution cubesats from Astro Digital, small sats from the University of Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory built for the Norwegian Space Center, and some small sats built by Russian universities.

Carahsoft Offers Webinar Series

Expanding on conversations from the GEOINT 2017 Symposium, Carahsoft will host a free webinar series July 24-27 titled “Riding the Wave of the GEOINT Revolution.” Each webinar will be led by experts from companies such as Google, Autodesk, and ikeGPS, and will include a discussion of current challenges the GEOINT Community is facing and present solutions that will keep the GEOINT Revolution moving forward. View the webinars and register today.

Photo Credit: Mapbox

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Weekly GEOINT Community News Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:53:46 +0000 Airbus and Partners Launch Starling Satellite Service; KeyW Wins Aviation Collection Services Contract; SSTL Selected to Build Galileo Navigation Payloads; Australia Invests $500 Million in Improved Satellite Imagery Access

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Airbus and Partners Launch Starling Satellite Service

Airbus, along with The Forest Trust and radar satellite imagery company SarVision, launched Starling, an innovative satellite service enabling companies to demonstrate how they are implementing their “No Deforestation” commitments. The launch follows a successful six-month pilot phase in Ferrero and Nestlé’s palm oil supply chains. Starling gives unbiased monitoring of large areas on a regular basis while detecting and identifying forest cover changes. The service also provides unprecedented accuracy with a combination of 1.5-meter SPOT images and radar that cuts through cloud cover, allowing year-round monitoring. This accuracy also means Starling can easily differentiate between crop types and recognize replanting and deforestation.

KeyW Wins Aviation Collection Services Contract

KeyW recently announced it received a new aviation collection services contract from a global customer. When combined with previously awarded airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance contracts from the same customer, the total value of these awards is approximately $9 million.

SSTL Selected to Build Galileo Navigation Payloads

Under an Authority to Proceed signed with European multinational technology company and prime contractor OHB-System AG, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) recently began construction on eight navigation payloads for Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system. The contract will be worth approximately €140 million, and is a continuation of a long and successful cooperation between SSTL and OHB-System AG, with the pairing having previously built 22 full operational capacity satellites for the Galileo Constellation. Fourteen of SSTL’s Galileo FOC navigation payloads are currently operational in orbit, with a further eight payloads already delivered to OHB for integration and test.

Australia Invests $500 Million in Improved Satellite Imagery Access

According to Australian Defence Magazine, the country’s government has committed $500 million to improve access to commercial satellites to provide information to government agencies. The information will be used to support Australia’s defense priorities to include defense operations, border protection, and humanitarian missions. This investment will also create opportunities for Australian companies interested in satellite technology and imagery analysis.

Photo Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

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Air Aware Tue, 06 Jun 2017 03:37:15 +0000 Experts discuss perspectives on airborne ISR at GEOINT Foreword

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Satellites are sexy. When it comes to understanding the world in which we live, however, spaceborne platforms provide only part of the picture. Another, equally critical piece of the GEOINT puzzle belongs to airborne platforms, speakers illustrated during the first series of talks, titled “Perspectives from the Air: Aircraft, Dirigibles, and UAS.” The presenters focused on three facets of aerial technology that together form a compelling whole.

First on the stage was Dr. Andrew Shepherd, director of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, who explained how commercial users can leverage UAS for land surveying, critical infrastructure inspection, and building information modeling (BIM)—all without a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose Part 107 regulations published in June 2016 allow “a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.”

“GED Talk” Perspectives from the Air: Aircraft, Dirigibles, and UAS from Trajectory On Location on Vimeo.

Succeeding Shepherd was Mark Romano, senior product manager, Geospatial Solutions, at Harris Corp., who discussed manned platforms and the super-sensors they carry—such as Geiger-mode LiDAR. Like conventional LiDAR, Geiger-mode LiDAR can penetrate foliage and map 3D elevation, achieving ground-level insights unobtainable with other sensors. Though platforms equipped with conventional LiDAR must fly low and slow, those carrying Geiger-mode LiDAR can fly high and fast, collecting more data points per square meter. The result, according to Romano: more and better imagery.

The future of airborne imagery lies with machine learning, according to the session’s final speaker, Eric Truitt, chief, Space & Intelligence Programs, Georgia Tech Research Institute. Eventually, he said, machine learning algorithms will observe how imagery analysts work and learn what analysts need from airborne imagery before they ask for it. Then the algorithms will automatically cue drones to collect the imagery analysts need, in the resolution and format in which they need it.

“They’re going to go out and perform mission to a level we’ve never seen,” Truitt concluded. “They’re going to bring back data to the analyst, to the reporter, to the national and tactical decision-maker that’s of a higher quality … to help us win intelligence challenges and battles of the future.”

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Embracing the Enterprise Wed, 03 May 2017 13:58:03 +0000 After three decades of incremental integration, the defense intelligence community is leveraging IT advancements to pursue a new era of interoperability and agility

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In modern business parlance, “stovepipe” is a dirty word. Believe it or not, however, stovepipes used to be useful. When they became commonplace in the 19th century, wood-burning stoves were connected to literal stovepipes that drew smoke out of the stove’s belly into a flue or chimney, which coughed it into the sky. In business and government, figurative stovepipes likewise move information from the bottom of an organization to the top. Like smoke from a wood-burning stove, the information flows upward to senior leaders, then out in the form of streamlined decision-making. Because it’s rigid and linear, the stovepipe promotes security, ensures accountability, and reinforces the chain of command, all of which can yield benefits in highly regimented organizations.

There’s just one problem: Stovepipes only flow in one direction. If you’re trying to move smoke through a chimney, that’s ideal. If you’re trying to move information through an enterprise, however, it’s problematic, as vertical processes are prone to inefficiency, duplication, and myopia. In that case, stovepipes don’t always eliminate smoke; often, they create more of it.

The Department of Defense (DoD) came to this realization when it transitioned from analog to digital imagery for airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), said Ralph Wade, a former Air Force imagery analyst and now vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group.

“The technology for digital sensors came about in the mid-1980s, when electronic communication made it possible to send information digitally from an airplane to a ground station in near real time,” explained Wade, who served as program manager for one of the first and largest such ground stations. “It was a huge increase in capability.”

Marines in Afghanistan

Marines assigned to Special Operations Task Force-West in Herat province, Afghanistan, review images taken by the team during an area assessment. DCGS-MC provides Marine intelligence analysts capabilities for enterprise search, content discovery, collaboration, and workflow management. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Rasheen A. Douglas

It was also a huge increase in cost, as each newly acquired platform in turn acquired its own dedicated data link and ground station.

“What you started seeing in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a proliferation of platforms with one-of-a-kind ground stations that were stovepiped,” Wade said. “Every time you wanted to put a sensor onboard an airplane, you had people reinventing the wheel by building custom systems. Congress looked at that and began challenging the Department of Defense: Why aren’t we getting more commonality?”

When Operation Desert Storm exposed a need for more and better imagery, the DoD began asking itself the same question. And when Congress subsequently reduced defense spending under President Bill Clinton, it felt compelled to answer it.

“Budgets were being cut and ISR was on the chopping block because … many of the services at that time didn’t see ISR as their core mission,” Wade recalled. “At the same time, a lot of new technology was coming along—particularly, unmanned vehicles—that wasn’t getting enough attention.”

To protect and prioritize airborne ISR funding, in 1993 the DoD created the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO) to develop and acquire department-wide airborne ISR capabilities.

The objective is the same now as it was then: interoperability. And it’s getting nearer every day, thanks to ongoing horizontal integration efforts within and among the services.

Embracing the Enterprise

Although the business case for interoperability is clear today, it wasn’t always apparent at the outset of DARO. Fortunately, the Air Force had already sown the seeds.

“It started somewhat by accident,” recalled Col. Jason Brown, commander of the Air Force’s 480th ISR Wing. “When digital imagery platforms came about, the Air Force put a digital imagery sensor on the U-2 so that the ones and zeros, if you will, would go down to a ground station … They later decided to put signals intelligence sensors on the same U-2, which went down to the same ground station. So, here you had imagery analysts and signals intelligence analysts all working in the same spot.”

It was an unorthodox but effective arrangement.

“You had folks who didn’t normally work together working together, which was a very powerful capability,” Brown continued.

DCGS was the first attempt at saying: When data comes off a sensor and gets processed, it’s got to be made ‘enterprise-able’—which means, it’s got to be made for use by all.

—John Snevely, DCGS FoS Leader, OUSD(I)

When the Cold War ended, the Air Force saw an opportunity to exploit that capability even further. Therefore, in 1992 it established the Contingency Airborne Reconnaissance System (CARS). Encompassing mobile ground stations in deployable vans, the system migrated in 1994 to a trio of permanent shelters that collected, processed, and exploited data from multiple airborne ISR platforms, then distributed it through a federated architecture to sites across the globe. In 1996, the permanent shelters—Distributed Ground Stations 1, 2, and 3—became known holistically as the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF DCGS), which now includes 27 regionally aligned, globally networked sites around the world.

By leveraging multi-source inputs and federated architecture, AF DCGS had solved the problems posed by stovepiped Air Force ground stations. As a result, the DoD sought sister systems to work in the same fashion across all services. And so was born the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) Family of Systems (FoS), consisting of AF DCGS, DCGS-A, DCGS-N, DCGS-MC, and DCGS-SOF—belonging to the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Forces, respectively—each of which integrates with the next via a common software construct known as the DCGS Integration Backbone, or DIB.

“The DIB is essentially a data architecture that everybody publishes to and exploits from,” said Todd Probert, vice president of mission sustainment and modernization at Raytheon, which along with Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and other industry partners has contracted with the DoD to build the systems necessary to achieve interoperability. “It’s foundational, and without that foundation it’s difficult to do sharing at speed.”

In humans, the spine integrates the body’s various anatomical systems via a shared nervous system through which they can communicate and share resources while still performing their own independent functions. In the DCGS FoS, the DIB is the spine. Although each service-specific DCGS architecture has its own functions and applications, it must be configured to store and share data through the DIB.

“DCGS was the first attempt at saying: When data comes off a sensor and gets processed, it’s got to be made ‘enterprise-able’—which means, it’s got to be made for use by all,” explained John Snevely, who leads the DCGS FoS at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence OUSD(I). “It took us away from proprietary intelligence data and forced us to start meeting and testing to standards.”

Sailors aboard the USS

Sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson experiment with Naval Integrated Tactical-Cloud Reference for Operational Superiority (NITROS) capability within various systems, including DCGS-N Increment 2 and the Maritime Tactical Command and Control system. Photo credit: U.S. Navy

Inspired by the Air Force, DARO and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NGA’s predecessor) began to consider the idea of interoperable ground stations across the services in 1994. The idea didn’t fully mature, however, until some time after the dissolution of DARO, when OUSD(I) assumed the work of standing up the DCGS FoS.

Prior to DARO’s termination in 1998, each of the services had formed a DCGS program office. Under OUSD(I) oversight, the program managers transitioned from an informal working group to a formal structure called the Multi-Service Execution Team (MET). MET collaborated—and still does—to determine the requirements and configuration of the DIB software. When this work was completed in 2003, OUSD(I) issued a mandate requiring the services to develop and acquire technology to DIB standards, which was made easier on the services by the provision of extra resources.

“We invested in enterprise governance,” Snevely said. “We paid for engineering support at the enterprise level so the program offices didn’t have to figure things out for themselves. It was done for them. All they had to do was take the technology off the shelf and implement it.”

The result was seamless discovery and dissemination.

“Sometimes, I anecdotally call DCGS ‘the Napster for intelligence,’” said retired Marine Col. Phillip Chudoba, assistant director of intelligence at Marine Corps headquarters, recalling the popular music-sharing platform of the early aughts. “That file-sharing platform allowed you to look on my computer and see what music files existed there that you might want to have. The same kind of logic exists with DCGS. A user at the tactical level theoretically has the ability via DCGS and the DIB to look across the joint services and see what information products and data are available.”

Current State: Operational Interoperability

Since OUSD(I) issued its DIB mandate, implementation of interoperability in general—and DCGS in particular—has unfolded in different ways and at different speeds across the services. In the last five years, however, the maturation of mobile computing and cloud architecture has allowed the defense intelligence community to enter a new phase of execution toward horizontal integration.

“You used to have intelligence analysts sitting in very specific seats doing very specific things with very specific intelligence types,” said Sean Love, director of business development at Northrop Grumman. “And that was fine, because the technology—the bandwidth and sheer connectivity—didn’t exist to do a whole lot more than that. Now that those barriers are coming down very quickly, you’re starting to see a lot more cross-sharing.”

The evolution of DCGS from concept to reality began with GEOINT. For example, within the Marine Corps—which initiated its DCGS-MC program in 2007—the first DIB-enabled systems were the Tactical Exploitation Group, an imagery system, and the Topographic Production Capability, which provides topographic and mapping capabilities.

“The GEOINT layer is the first intelligence capability that we elected to pursue in DCGS because the GEOINT layer offers us tremendous potential for enhancing our decision support to commanders,” explained Chudoba.

He added the Marine Corps wants to move from what he calls a “mall cop” environment—intelligence analysts trying to make cognitive sense of a single, limited-view input, like a mall cop monitoring a security-camera feed—to a multi-INT environment wherein analysts can get a more holistic view.

“We want to have a single integrated system consisting of a synoptic GEOINT layer on top of which we can toggle all the other intelligence disciplines in order to look at a problem from different dimensions and make good, timely, accurate decisions.”

With foundation GEOINT in place, the Marine Corps can now pursue DIB-enabled capabilities for other intelligence disciplines.

“DCGS started with sharing only GEOINT,” Snevely said. “We’ve since taken that model and used it to establish sharing in HUMINT, MASINT, and SIGINT. Each of those threads is growing and has its own level of success.”

What we’ve seen is an explosive growth in collected data. Historically, we’ve done what we had to do, which is throwing a ton of manpower at the problem. But we’re starting to realize that we need automation to assist. The goal is to remove hay from the haystack.

—Capt. Jeffrey Czerewko, Office of Digital Warfare within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

The Navy is focused on data fusion as it develops the next generation of DCGS-N. The Navy’s forthcoming upgrade, DCGS-N Increment 2, which recently entered its initial development phase, will likewise allow users to synchronize intelligence data from multiple sources within a single computing environment.

“I’m taking tools that sailors have seen, and I’m integrating them at the data layer so the individual can use them from a single work page without having to jump from product to product,” said Capt. Mark Kempf, program manager for the Navy’s Battlespace Awareness and Information Operations Program Office, which oversees DCGS-N.

Unlocking Agility

In many ways, DCGS-N Increment 2 represents the future of the DCGS FoS in that it will embrace automation.

“What we’ve seen is an explosive growth in collected data,” said Capt. Jeffrey Czerewko, who serves in the Navy’s newly formed Office of Digital Warfare within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. “Historically, we’ve done what we had to do, which is throwing a ton of manpower at the problem. But we’re starting to realize that we need automation to assist. The goal is to remove hay from the haystack.”

DCGS-N Increment 2 will “remove hay” via real-time automated aggregation, correlation, and fusion of all-source intelligence.

“I want the analyst to be able to do analysis instead of having to do production,” Kempf said. “The button pushing should all be automated.”

Automation isn’t the only forward-looking aspect of DCGS-N Increment 2. Another is the way in which the program is being delivered: using an agile software development framework whereby new capabilities are tested by and delivered to users on a rolling basis through a series of incremental releases.

That approach to developing and acquiring capabilities is the future of DCGS and the key to DoD ISR interoperability, according to Wade, who says the entire defense intelligence community must go the way of the Navy by transitioning the focus from hardware to software. Consider, for example, the difference between navigating in your car using a dash-mounted GPS unit, like a Garmin or TomTom, versus a smartphone app such as Google Maps or Waze.

“The way we buy things right now in DoD is we buy Garmin- and TomTom-type systems. These are single-capability systems,” explained Wade, who said such hardware takes the DoD many years and extensive manpower to design, develop, manufacture, test, deploy, install, integrate, and maintain. “Contrast that to the Waze application that provides the same capability, but can be developed by a handful of people and deployed on millions of smartphones around the world in a matter of minutes.”

What’s missing, according to Wade, is the common IT platform—the DoD version of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android—on which to run the software. “When you talk about the future vision for DCGS, what you want to have is a common ISR IT platform that you can rapidly build out with applications and services.”

That’s exactly where the Air Force intends to take its DCGS platform, according to Col. Kristofer Gifford, chief of the Air Intelligence Staff’s Multi-Domain Operations Division.

“Historically, the way we’ve acquired and fielded DCGS is like acquiring and fielding an aircraft carrier or a fighter jet, which is a five- to seven-year process of block fielding,” Gifford said. “At the end of that you get one thing: Everything from the tires to the software to the navigation system and the weapons is all rolled up. If you acquired [DCGS like a consumer acquires an] iPhone [then downloads apps], you’d break it apart into bits and pieces, and you’d field the separate pieces as you go.”

Across the services, the key to breaking DCGS apart is breaking it open. As in, open architecture.

Although the DIB and its core component, the Distributed Data Framework, unlocked the door to open architecture, they didn’t completely open it, according to Jerry Mamrol, director of ISR systems at Lockheed Martin, which helped develop the DIB.

“The DIB took an important step toward an open architecture by providing a standardized method to query and access finished intel product data,” Mamrol said. “This provided some degree of openness by enabling interoperability and sharing of finished products between the services via the DDF. For the architecture to be fully open, it also needs a standardized, common infrastructure that allows applications to be developed and ‘plugged in’ by different providers.”

A plug-and-play infrastructure will activate a whole new level of interoperability by way of flexibility.

“If you have an open architecture, you can horse trade what tools you like better for any given mission,” Love said. “You’re not going to send a really geospatial-heavy system out into the field, for example, because you won’t have the power you need and you won’t have the bandwidth. So, being able to use something that’s a lot lighter without having to change your data standards to make it happen is absolutely key.”

The weapons that matter most in the next war won’t be hardware…they will be software and data, and our decisive advantage will be how quickly our airmen can access, leverage, develop, and create those software and data.

—Col. Jason Brown, Commander, 480th ISR Wing, U.S. Air Force

Ultimately, DCGS open architecture will be similar to that of a smart home environment, according to Love. “There are five or six different standards out there for [connected home devices]. If you put all those in your house and you don’t have a way for them to interconnect, you’re going to need four different pieces of software to control your house, which is super irritating,” he continued. “Now there’s a single hub out there that accepts all the different signals so you can control your entire house with one app. It’s truly a system of systems.”

This plug-and-play approach allows data to flow freely between service- and mission-specific applications that can be created cheaper and deployed faster, according to Brown, who said the Air Force is currently piloting an “open architecture” version of AF DCGS, known as OADCGS, that allows airmen to develop their own scripts and apps.

“The weapons that matter most in the next war won’t be hardware—a stealth aircraft, a ship, or a tank,” Brown said. “They will be software and data, and our decisive advantage will be how quickly our airmen can access, leverage, develop, and create those software and data.”

Next-Level Integration

Although technology will continue to advance the DCGS FoS, strategic governance will drive it. While there are several constructs through which the services manage ISR interoperability, principal among them is the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E), an umbrella under which OUSD(I) organizes and unites disparate defense intelligence systems, including the DCGS FoS. The DCGS Multi-Service Execution Team, made up of the DCGS program managers from each of the services, meets regularly to prioritize, establish, and resolve issues with DCGS standards, specifications, and architecture. This group operates under the auspices of a high-level governance group known as the DI2E Council.

“We use the DI2E Council to bring all the services together along with the [intelligence] agencies—anybody who has a role to play in DCGS—to make sure we’re [aligned],” said retired Air Force intelligence analyst Jack Jones, director of ISR infrastructure at OUSD(I). “Because if everybody’s in charge and has their own unique budget set and their own idea about where they want to go, then nobody’s in charge and you end up with non-compatible solutions.”

U.S. Naval forces

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer transit the East China Sea March 9 with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. DCGS-N is the primary conduit for intelligence support to deployed U.S. Naval forces around the world. Photo credit: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano

As the fountainhead of DCGS objectives, the DI2E Council is responsible in large part for the services’ drive toward open architecture, having laid out the standards by which such architectures will be executed. Likewise, it’s the driving force behind the next major milestone in DoD ISR interoperability: IT integration with the larger defense enterprise—via the Joint Information Environment (JIE)—and with the Intelligence Community (IC) via the IC Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE).

“The challenge is making sure that as these large enterprise deliveries and concepts get put in place that they don’t ignore the need for interoperability to go all the way down to the Joint Task Force-level and below, which is where DCGS is,” Snevely said. “We spend a lot of time ensuring that IC ITE standards and specifications, and JIE vision, are going to be executable at the DCGS level.”

The challenge is significant, but so are the promised returns, according to Chudoba, who said a number of IC organizations already share intelligence products and data across the DCGS FoS via their own versions of the DIB.

“Stuff I previously had to request through formal processes and linear channels now can be exposed to me through the same methodology as commercial file-sharing capabilities,” Chudoba said. “The power there is incredible.”

Progress is incremental. Eventually, the IT standards enabling interoperability across the defense intelligence community will enable interoperability at a global scale, uniting the DoD, the IC, and even their international mission partners through shared data.

“We’re looking for ways for intelligence information to be readily shared at the appropriate level with partners in all regions of the world,” explained Snevely, who said such sharing would happen by automatically extracting intelligence from DCGS and distributing it within the combatant commands via the U.S. Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation Systems program. “It’s very difficult to do, but that’s the future.”

A ‘Fungible’ Future

Good governance and cutting-edge technology have turned interoperability from an ethereal goal into a tangible reality. As a result, stovepipes are crumbling. And yet, work remains.

“I think we’re doing OK, but we have a long way to go,” Jones said, citing DoD’s size, complexity, and culture as major challenges to overcome on the way to increased interoperability. “We’re in an environment that’s used to building planes, ships, and tanks. Even with our ISR capabilities, we build a collector, a sensor, a link, and a ground station—a point-to-point solution. Instead, we need to be more focused on data as an asset. If we do that, then build backward, it won’t be about the collector; it will be about what we’re trying to do with the data. That, in turn, will help us get better synchronized.”

When that happens, DoD ISR will truly become a team sport.

“We’re evolving into an enterprise construct that makes intelligence capability and capacity fungible,” Chudoba concluded. “By that, I mean systems like DCGS give us the ability to play [young children’s] soccer when a problem arises. Most people say that in a pejorative fashion. To me it’s a positive thing. When a problem arises—when we see the ball—we can get everyone to converge around it and kick it into the goal. That’s what [interoperability] does for us, and that’s how we want to operate.”


The Army has not yet decided how to modernize DCGS-A amid ongoing litigation with Palantir Technologies Inc. The service declined an interview request from trajectory.

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