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Priorities for Geoint Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
for pre-definable theaters of war and deployment scenarios to a focus on predictive, on-demand geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) and the ability to respond in near real time, anywhere, anytime. The evolution, however, is resisted by the complexities and immediacy of NGA’s mission imperatives. The emerging GEOINT concepts of “full-spectrum collection,” “horizontal integration,” and “persistent surveillance” (NGA, 2004a) both inspire NGA’s research and development portfolio and simultaneously create a mismatch between NGA’s operational systems and the future requirements for research.
The committee observed that there has been a strong tendency to focus research on the improvement of existing architectures. Yet NGA can only achieve so much by investing in research that is based on incremental improvement of data sources and processes within its existing technology. The paradigm shift required to fulfill NGA’s GEOINT mission will unavoidably involve discontinuities in the established technology frameworks, organizational structures, and processes of today. The increased reliance on industry for new technology that has worked well over the last decade may not be sustainable. In industry, this is a time of considerable vulnerability. Many commercial organizations will fail and be replaced by newer organizations unencumbered with past technologies. Yet NGA also has to respond to current tasking. As such, NGA will have to invest in two different streams of research. First, there is a need to maintain and improve existing capabilities to make them as productive and robust as possible. A second need is to confront the realization that meeting NGA’s current, let alone future, mission will require fundamental, as-yet-undefined redevelopment of information technology (IT) infrastructures and operational processes. In the opinion of the committee, the current level of research support is barely sufficient for the first, let alone the second. Nevertheless, NGA has the potential to build on its existing research model to respond to this critical national need, should the nation decide that such a priority is indeed at the heart of the national interest and award support concurrent with that need. It will be essential to allow vastly increased feedback from the existing research process into NGA’s operational programs, and vice versa, so that NGA’s problems can become better known to those conducting the pertinent research.
The dichotomous nature of NGA’s research future has provoked a debate about incremental versus fundamental change that is clearly active within NGA, and both strands of the debate were heard during the committee’s briefing sessions. Chapter 2 describes the current structure for geospatial science and technology research at NGA. The present chapter discusses the committee’s findings and conclusions about what is needed to meet the new NGA mission. At the end, this chapter addresses the challenge of moving research forward in parallel with incremental