Opening the Aperture

GEOINT leaders discuss how access to pixels and analytic service technology is evolving and advancing the GEOINT tradecraft


Industry leaders, academics, and government officials in the GEOINT and Intelligence Communities (IC) gathered at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Campus East for the Commercial GEOINT Workshop to address what non-traditional commercial data and analytic capabilities look like today and how commercial GEOINT is opening the aperture.

The unclassified day program was packed with keynotes, panel discussions, industry flash talks, networking, and exhibits focused on topics like data and services, data rights, and more.

The Evolving Role of Commercial GEOINT

The day began with a keynote speech by Dr. Roy Pettis, Jr., assistant director of National Intelligence for Acquisition, Procurement, and Facilities, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Pettis, like other speakers, agreed that industries do not lack innovation when developing new services and solutions.

“There is room for thoughts and ideas in industry,” Pettis said. “We count on that inventiveness of the commercial world to satisfy requirements.”

According to Pettis, ODNI allots funds for different national security efforts in the IC. There are three steps Pettis takes when allocating funds: set requirements; determine budget; and continuous progress review. But an important step in that process is to determine when and where to incorporate commercial, which, according to Pettis, would free up money for other efforts.

“It puts commercial imagery in a world where we know the budget we have to put towards it,” said Pettis, emphasizing that commercial can provide the IC with existing capabilities at an affordable cost, but this did not mean allotting funds for industries to build services and solutions.

A Growing Spectrum of Data & Services  

In the first panel of the day, industry leaders addressed the importance of partnerships in our data-driven world. Key takeaways included the importance of partnerships within industry, growing the next-generation workforce, and federal clearance. In terms of government partnerships, all panelists agreed that the federal government must expand its unclassified space in order to incorporate more commercial data. Additionally, Chris Bellios, COO, Hexagon US Federal, explained that industries need to get involved with the next-generation workforce at the university level.

“Delivering real-world problems and real-world data to students eliminates the learning curve they experience when entering the workforce, “Bellios said.

He also specified that industry partnerships were also a necessity as the commercial paradigm shifts.

“We need to partner with others in the industry to work together in this data-driven world and collectively deal with problems,” Bellios said.

Panelist Kenyon Waugh, president, AllSource Analysis agreed with Bellios, adding that industry partnerships will not only allow for collective critical thinking but the expansion of GEOINT capabilities and a better understanding of existing data.

“We need to partner with industries outside of the government in order to grow our tradecraft,” said Waugh.

Addressing the changing commercial data business model, Waugh emphasized that the future is in procurement—providing fixed interoperable services and solutions to industry and government.

Mission Integration & Partnering for Mission Success

In the next two panels, government and industry GEOINTers discussed integrating commercial GEOINT capabilities into national security efforts. Ashley Richter, technology architect, In-Q-Tel, believes that in order to do this, industries and agencies in and around the IC must first begin to trust one another.

“Each agency has their own [tasks] and they do not speak to one another,” Richter said. “We need to break those silos internally within not just the IC but also the commercial sector.”

Further communicating within agencies will develop and evolve the analytical tradecraft. David Gauthier, director of Commercial and Business Operations, NGA, and Peter Muend, director of the Commercial Systems Program Office, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), addressed their joint effort to better leverage emerging commercial GEOINT capabilities.

“Like every relationship, there are challenges and successes,” Muend said. “But we are rapidly moving forward to meet a proper set of needs.”

Gauthier explained that part of their efforts involves assessing commercial capabilities and the products and services offered. Following NRO’s and NGA’s discussion, another panel of government and industry GEOINTers continued the conversation of integrating commercial GEOINT capabilities into national security efforts.

“There is no lack of innovation in industry,” said Adam Estrada, director of analysis, Maxar Technologies. “It’s about how we tap into that innovation so our analysts and consumers can leverage it.”

Data Rights, Licensing and Sharing

A common understanding among all the speakers is the volume of data is increasing. But the last panel of the day described how the contract environment surrounding data is equally as important as the data itself. Geospatial products and services are increasingly being developed using data from a variety of sources—government, industry, crowd, etc.

“There is no standard licensing for this type of data,” said Kevin Pomfret, partner, Williams Mullen. “Each data type is subject to their own licenses and data sharing agreements, which also include varying terms and restrictions.”

So when considering data rights, added Nicole Pierce, principal, NRP Consulting, users must understand the way the data changes and aggregates.

“There needs to be constant communication between industry and government,” said Pierce, emphasizing the need for ‘true market understanding’ where both parties understand the terms and restrictions set in the license.

And the first step, according to Pomfret, is reaching out and learning from one another in the community, including the lawyers.

Mission Focus: Global Sustainability

The morning program included a keynote and a panel discussion about collaboration between government, industry, and academia to detect and quantify changes and map trends.

IC GEOINT Support to USAF and USSF

Panel highlights how commercial GEOINT contributes to mission success

USAF: From Air to Space

Kenneth Bray reflects on ongoing and future changes for USAF ISR, and how commercial capabilities will help them achieve their new goals.