The U.S. government and organizations in the industry can no longer work with stove-piped data. Whether we’re dealing with factors such as technology, global geopolitics or military readiness, the future of GEOINT relies on partnerships and interoperability.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana in 1905. These are important words to live by today as we look to the future of the GEOINT environment, which is envisioned by many organizations within the industry and was explored in the GEOINT Strategic Futures Panel on Thursday, Oct. 7.
Led by moderator Rich Bayard, National Security Portfolio Team Lead at Accenture Federal Services, the panel included: Ed Mornston, Director of Intelligence and Security at Army Futures Command; Gary Dunow, Associate Director of Enterprise at NGA; Guiseppe Nobile, Head of the Geospatial Section at NATO Headquarters; and Joseph Cyrulik, Deputy Director of the Strategic Futures Group at the National Intelligence Council.
During the 40-minute discussion, Bayard and the four panelists explored what the future of GEOINT looks like from their points of view, detailed in their organizations’ strategic documents. These documents include the U.S. Army Modernization Strategy, the Global Trends 2040 report (published by the National Intelligence Council), NGA’s 2035 GEOINT CONOPS and NATO’s 2030 Agenda.
From the National Intelligence Council’s point of view, the intelligence environment is going to change in regards to complexity, said Cyrulik. “The intelligence community is going to be pressed to answer very large, very complex questions, where providing trade space and identifying tradeoffs is going to be of the utmost importance,” he said. “For example, moving forward with our relationship with China. How do we compete with China strategically as a near-peer adversary? On the other hand, when we’re dealing with issues like climate change and global public health, we’re going to need Chinese cooperation. How do we do both at the same time?”
Partnerships, whether with international partners or within the U.S. government and industry partners, will be key to a successful future, agreed Dunow. The 2035 GEOINT CONOPS lays out clear, aggressive end-states that everyone will need to work toward together in order to reach them by the goal date.
“It has to be a team sport,” Dunow said. “GEOINT support to decision makers and war fighters cannot be a pickup game, where if something happens, we just show up on the field and hope everybody brought the right equipment and understands all the plays. We have to be interoperable and start building to standards and building architectures and connectivity not just within NGA and the U.S. government, but also with our international partners. We have to build it in a way that we can start practicing today to get after those problems before it’s too late on the ground.”
Interoperability was another point of agreement, as the Army’s modernization initiatives increasingly include GEOINT, said Mornston. “We have 35 efforts that are our highest priorities,” he said. “They all rely to a large extent on advanced geospatial intelligence, and two in particular are built entirely around GEOINT.”
Mornston added that the Army is also about to start Project Convergence, “where we will be taking 110 technologies to the field for six weeks to figure out if they do what we think they can do, if they will interoperate, and what technology works really well with another technology. In a nutshell, it’s a major interoperability exercise. Thirty-five of the 110 technologies are from other military branches, so it’s truly a joint effort.”
With the fifth operational domain of space now being included, interoperability is also key for NATO, said Nobile. Nobile’s new project at NATO is the Strategic Space Situational Awareness System, and while he intends to treat and process the information in this new domain the same way he processes information coming from the other domains, Nobile says making sure the data and applications can intercommunicate will be of utmost importance when the project scales up.
“There’s a lot of complexity involved, and there’s a large amount of data available, which bring amplified noise,” he said. “So, we have to make sure the information is processed rapidly, but also accurately, and does not mislead decision makers.”