Pentagon Eyes GEOINT Upgrade

Deputy secretary of defense calls for ‘patterns of life’ intelligence


Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work called for dramatic improvements in the GEOINT products available to the Department of Defense during his GEOINT 2015 keynote speech Tuesday.

“When we discuss and debate what space capabilities we need to improve on, GEOINT is going to remain at the top of the list,” he said.

Work acknowledged the GEOINT Community already provides vital products to warfighters, such as exquisite imagery, detailed maps and charts, data for high-fidelity mission planning systems, change detection, targeting support, and three-dimensional renderings of buildings and compounds. But he said the Department of Defense needs even better intelligence to maintain its technological edge on the battlefield.

“We’re going to double down on GEOINT in the future,” he said. “We want to be able to establish patterns of life from space. We want to know what the unusual looks like.”

Work offered several examples of the patterns of life he is looking for.

“All of a sudden, if a lot of cars show up in the parking lot of an adversary’s missile plant, we want to know about it and we want to know about it quickly,” he said. “If, suddenly, small boats are swarming in the [Persian] Gulf or pirates are starting to congregate off Aden, [a seaport city in Yemen], we want to know. If Russian soldiers are snapping pictures of themselves in war zones and posting them on social media sites, we want to know exactly where those pictures were taken. If people start to build structures on islands in the South China Sea, we want to know about that. And if [there is] a ship we suspect might be carrying missile materials, we want to know how deep it’s sitting in the water so we can determine how much cargo is on board.”

Work said producing such intelligence will not be easy, as it requires sifting through a “massive amount of data.” In addition, such information must be provided quickly because technology is shortening reaction times. He said the DoD will have to rely more heavily on private-sector innovation to provide such services.

Work also discussed space-based systems that aid GEOINT and other forms of intelligence, saying they will be increasingly vulnerable to attack by emerging, potentially adversarial powers such as China and Russia. The “virtual sanctuary” that the United States enjoyed in space for the past 25 years due to its “unparalleled” capabilities will become much more contested in the next 25 years, he predicted.

According to Work, the Defense Department redirected about $5 billion in its FY16 budget request to improve space security, and an ongoing strategic portfolio review is underway to determine whether more funding increases are in order.

The DoD needs to make its space systems more resilient, Work said. “If we fail to do so, the implications for our national security will be quite profound. Our command and control will be significantly degraded. Our ability to detect and track adversary ballistic missile launches will suffer. The accuracy of our precision-guided munitions will be put into question. Satellite links that connect our unmanned aerial systems will be denied.”


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