From Seabed to Space and The Future of the NGA
VADM Frank Whitworth, USN, Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency spoke on the main stage about the organization’s past, present, and future
In his keynote address on Monday, VADM Admiral Frank D. Whitworth, USN, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), provided a retrospective of changes and ongoing challenges NGA has faced since the last Symposium and a glimpse at what the future holds for NGA and tradecraft.
To reflect the growing responsibilities of the agency, the motto of NGA has been changed to “Know the world, show the way…from the seabed to space.” Whitworth shared that this change reflects “our expanding responsibilities into areas not quite as visible to ordinary citizens. So instead of a motto that could suggest we know the landmasses we have a motto that conveys we’re looking up down in everywhere, that our nation’s interest may be threatened.”
In the last year, NGA has been prominent in its role as a combat support agency on tactical, operational, and strategic levels to support the priority of succeeding against China and Russia. Chinese intelligence in particular has proven a challenge, as it has developed in the fields of “military, tech, space, and cyber capabilities,” according to Whitworth. In the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, “NGA has been providing key insights on Russian forces tracking their movements and capabilities, as well as assessing their infrastructure. Back before the conflict kicked off in February of last year, we connected commercial satellite vendors to Ukraine, which provided them with a responsive mechanism to do their own intelligence. And of course, our robust partnership with the Allied geospatial community enables us to share widely across the enterprise,” he said.
In the Middle East, Whitworth cited Iran as the prime source of regional instability. “Its continued sponsorship and provocation of malign activities and influence posts direct and indirect challenges to U.S. interests and to those of our allies and partners,” he said. He also touched upon the challenge of North Korea, whose tightly controlled nature can make it difficult to penetrate, from an intelligence perspective. Despite this difficulty, NGA analysis was able to provide assessments of the regime’s WMD program, missile capabilities, and efforts to expand nuclear weapons capabilities.
In addition to matters of global security, Whitworth spoke of the humanitarian role of the NGA. “It’s a unique privilege to work in an organization that can shift to causes that save civilian lives and preserve our planet,” he said. “At home, when requested by lead federal agencies like FEMA, we provide support to disasters like we did for hurricanes in Fort Myers, Florida. Our deployed analysts processed more than 100 square miles of commercial imagery there, and 800 gigabytes of small UAS data comprising nearly 80,000 images. They printed more than 1000 maps and developed route analysis. They also highlighted gaps in searches to assist FEMA supervisors quickly and to direct resources where they were needed. We made the same impact internationally, standing up portals within 24 hours of devastating earthquakes, providing access to unclassified charts, maps, and imagery products needed to support disaster relief efforts.”
In January of this year, NGA also took on leadership of project Maven, in which the worlds of AI and GEOINT data meet. The admiral praised its success in data collection. “Maven has become a program of record, and has made some of its most significant technological strides and has already contributed to some of our nation’s most important operations.”
Whitworth also praised the agency’s leadership in collection orchestration, which he described as the “art of tasking pieces of the collection puzzle to become aligned with national priorities, operational and analytical needs, and real-world deadlines.” In the past year, analysts have captured “about 5 million structured observations generated more than 20,000 automatically generated reports from data to text to inform our readership, employed more than 100 adversary activity models to assist in knowledge capture and automation, and ingested approximately 1.5 million computer vision detections per day.”
The admiral’s keynote ended with gratitude for the city of St. Louis and its ongoing 80-year relationship with NGA, beginning in the second world war, in which professionals in the city provided more than 14 million aeronautical map charts. This robust relationship continues, as a new NGA facility in the city, the Moonshot Lab, is being developed.
In his conclusion, Whitworth took a look forward, saying, “Our future requires us to be bold, and ambitious, and always, always, out front. Together, we can meet and exceed the challenges that lie ahead. Our nation relies on us to do no less.”
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