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Introduction

BACKGROUND

The mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)—until 2003, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)—is to provide timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to support national security. NGA defines geospatial intelligence as “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth” (NGA, 2004a). The term was adopted in the agency name for two reasons: (1) to recognize the fundamental property of geographical location associated with the data that NGA and the intelligence community produce and analyze and (2) to emphasize the value-added analyses that the agency performs to create a distinct type of actionable intelligence.

NGA must improve the speed, thoroughness, accuracy, fidelity, and relevance of its geospatial analyses while the sources of data increase in number and type, and data volume grows. These issues are especially pressing because there is uncertainty about the future number of available NGA analysts due to intense recruitment demands and the nature of staff demographics. Furthermore, within NGA and the intelligence community more broadly, both the objectives of the Joint Vision 2020 and the emerging components of GEOINT (e.g., elegant intelligence, full spectrum collection, persistent surveillance, universal situational awareness) have set the stage for moving toward greater integration in intelligence problem solving (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2000; NGA, 2004a). Within this context, NGA’s vision is to



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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency 1 Introduction BACKGROUND The mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)—until 2003, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)—is to provide timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to support national security. NGA defines geospatial intelligence as “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth” (NGA, 2004a). The term was adopted in the agency name for two reasons: (1) to recognize the fundamental property of geographical location associated with the data that NGA and the intelligence community produce and analyze and (2) to emphasize the value-added analyses that the agency performs to create a distinct type of actionable intelligence. NGA must improve the speed, thoroughness, accuracy, fidelity, and relevance of its geospatial analyses while the sources of data increase in number and type, and data volume grows. These issues are especially pressing because there is uncertainty about the future number of available NGA analysts due to intense recruitment demands and the nature of staff demographics. Furthermore, within NGA and the intelligence community more broadly, both the objectives of the Joint Vision 2020 and the emerging components of GEOINT (e.g., elegant intelligence, full spectrum collection, persistent surveillance, universal situational awareness) have set the stage for moving toward greater integration in intelligence problem solving (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2000; NGA, 2004a). Within this context, NGA’s vision is to

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Provide geospatial intelligence in all its forms and from whatever source—imagery, imagery intelligence, or geospatial data and information—to ensure a solid foundation of knowledge for planning, decision, and action; Provide easy access to geospatial intelligence databases for all stakeholders; and Create tailored, customer-specific geospatial intelligence, analytic services, and solutions. The programs of the Basic and Applied Research Office (BARO) under NGA’s InnoVision Directorate provide research and development (R&D) support for the agency’s mission and vision. These programs, particularly the Geospatial Science Program, invest in scientifically oriented geospatial research in academia, the business community, and government laboratories through such programs as the NGA University Research Initiatives (NURI), Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions (HBCU-MI) Research Initiatives, postdoctoral research fellowships, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, cooperative research and development agreements, Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments, and Service Academies Program and through internal research. The majority of these programs are unclassified. BARO must revise its research plan periodically to support the scientific and technical challenges NGA faces in delivering integrated geospatial intelligence. Addressing NGA’s challenges requires investing in fundamental research to discover breakthrough capabilities that will meet the demands placed on analysts. By its nature, basic research is high risk but with a potential for high payoff. Although this level of risk places it in jeopardy when competing for funding against more tangible, near-term activities, in the longer term such research is essential to NGA. This adds a further dimension to the context in which BARO must revise its research plan. A key facet of the future of NGA research relates to programs that cover aspects of geographic information science, particularly BARO’s Geospatial Science Program, which seek to take advantage of the most useful methods, data, and technologies from geography and related disciplines. Geospatial science and technology are evolving rapidly in the post-Cold War era. Such technologies as digital soft-copy photogrammetry, high-resolution satellite imagery, and digital geospatial databases—once the exclusive domain of the Department of Defense and the intelligence community—are now common throughout academia and the public and private sectors. The proprietary, frequently classified, hardware and software solutions to geospatial challenges have given way to products and services from the commercial marketplace, which has allowed NGA to

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency narrow its research focus to problems that are more closely related to its mission than in the past. Furthermore, NGA now works with non-agency partners on problems that both advance geospatial science and serve mutual interests. This National Research Council study is intended to help NGA’s chief scientist anticipate and prioritize geospatial science research directions and, by doing so, enhance NGA’s mix of research investments to best address these priorities. STATEMENT OF TASK AND APPROACH The National Academies was asked by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to convene a study that would identify research priorities and strategic directions in geospatial science for the NGA’s Basic and Applied Research Program. The goal of the study was to examine the following: “Hard problems” in geospatial science that must be addressed to improve geospatial intelligence and Promising methods and tools in geospatial science and related disciplines that can be brought to bear on national security and homeland defense problems. The Committee on Basic and Applied Research Priorities in Geospatial Science for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was composed of eight members from academia, industry, government, and nongovernment organizations. Members brought extensive experience and expertise in geospatial science and related disciplines and technologies. The committee met three times. One meeting coincided with the September 15-17, 2004, annual NGA Academic Research Program (NARP) Symposium which brings together NURI, HBCU-MI, service academy, and NGA postdoctoral fellows to report on their research. Committee members attended most of this meeting to gather information about the structure and organization of NARP. It was an unprecedented opportunity to discuss the NARP program with most of the principal investigators and other scientists. In addition to using published materials on NGA research program announcements, strategic directions, and funding trends and patterns, the committee sought testimony from NGA technical executives, analysts, program managers, and other staff to learn their perspectives on future demands for geospatial science research. Testimony from technical executives elsewhere in the intelligence community was also used. Based on the information gathered on NGA’s challenges and the committee’s knowledge of the current state of the art in geospatial

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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency information science, a list of hard research problems of most relevance to NGA was developed, along with promising methods to pursue. These problems were put into the context of the GEOINT process and prioritized. REPORT STRUCTURE Chapter 2 provides background and context for the environment in which research is performed at NGA, describing how NGA and its research program have evolved over time. Chapter 3 discusses NGA’s self-identified top 10 challenges, which provide a context for directing research. Chapter 4 details the hard research problems that NGA should focus on in order to address the top 10 challenges, as well as promising methods for their solution and steps possible in the short and longer term. Chapter 5 makes recommendations concerning research structure. Chapter 6 places the hard research problems into an overall framework for GEOINT and provides priorities for a research agenda.