G-E-O-I-N-T are the new call letters in radio frequency, as these two “old” modalities join forces to become the intelligence community’s new “it” couple.
A seasoned pro of the GEOINT field, Shay Har-Noy has attended countless panels on optical imagery (OI), artificial intelligence (AI) imagery, and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). But Sunday’s panel, “What’s the (Radio) Frequency, Kenneth?” was the first he’s seen on the intersection of GEOINT and radio frequency (RF). “I’m going to sit here and say I think we are just in the infancy of this,” said Har-Noy, general manager of aviation at Spire. “Just like GEOINT embraced commercial optical and commercial SAR, this is now the time of commercial RF.”
Piggybacking off moderator Jack O’Connor’s analogy of “a courtship,” Hawkeye 360 chief strategy officer Kari Bingen described GEOINT and RF’s current relationship status as “dating.” “Let’s bring it into our demonstrations and tests to figure out which mission areas it makes the most sense in,” she said.
“If you look at GEOINT as a foundation for all the other ‘ints,’ RF is a natural fit. At the end of the day, it’s mapping,” said Karyn Hayes-Ryan, U.S. director for Kleos Space. “We’re just learning to identify its military, government, and civil applications.”
Still, even in its “getting-to-know-you” phase, certain applications spring immediately to mind, ranging from GPS to meteorology to maritime domain awareness. “Think about our allies who might otherwise not have access to this information,” said Bingen. “You’re not only able to help them with their cutters and control boats but also to be smarter about how they look for potential illicit activity like illegal fishing.”
Har-Noy’s thoughts go straight to jammed signals, a chief complaint of aviation regulators. Bingen, a former director for the House Armed Services Committee, imagines those same jammed signals in a more sinister context. “We’re detecting electronic warfare,” said Bingen, chief strategy officer at Hawkeye 360. “Those emitters jamming GPS and radars—those are leading indicators of where Russian forces are and where they’re moving.”
Har-Noy counts accuracy, low-latency, and ease-of-use among the many forces driving RF’s “GEOINT-ification.” And though their union and applications are news, neither GEOINT nor RF on their own are new to the scene. So what’s taken these kids so long to get together? “This is a data set that until today has largely been done with government resources and frankly, classified,” Bingen said. “Now with the proliferation of technology, the trend is to do it in an unclassified and shareable way.
The commercialization of technology hasn’t hurt, either. “It’s a different model, so private dollars are funding the development, launch, and operation of these satellites [instead of] the taxpayer,” Bingen said.
Declassification and privatization have broadened the scope of RF’s applications and in the process, made it accessible to a decidedly larger population of users. “The beauty of RF is most pronounced when it’s combined with other data sets,” Har-Noy said.
Bingen believes it’s the end-users who will drive the next phase of the GEOINT/RF’s collab, thereby signaling its official arrival. “We have to get to a point where we have that commoditized data out there for folks to access; [where we] bring in the application-developer community; bring in those machine-learning developers,” she said. “Then you bring in the tech of the cloud—where you can take the data and the analytic insights and deliver it to any point on the globe—that’s powerful. And man, we’re just getting started. “