The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is responsible for providing timely, relevant, and accurate imagery, geospatial information, and products—collectively known as geospatial intelligence—to support national security. The threats to national security continually evolve, as do the tools and skill sets needed to respond. As a result, NGA faces the challenge of maintaining a workforce that can deal with changes in the location of conflicts, the nature of warfare (Münkler, 2003), and the management of asymmetrical threats (conflicts between agents with different military powers or tactics; Geiss, 2006), as well as ongoing scientific and technological advances, competition for geospatial expertise by other organizations, and the changing expectations of workers.
NGA scientists and analysts use imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. To carry out this work, NGA has historically hired individuals in five core areas: geodesy and geophysics, photogrammetry, remote sensing, cartographic science, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and geospatial analysis. These five fields have also been at the core of the commercial geospatial sector in the United States over the past decade (e.g., Google Earth, mobile location-based services). However, university programs, which provide foundation geospatial knowledge and skills, are constantly changing, as are the skill sets of graduates.
At the same time, recent technological shifts— including open-source data exploitation, crowdsourcing, distributed computing, and hand-held mobile devices—are moving more geospatial intelligence tools and products into the hands of the warfighter and, in doing so, are changing the nature of the work done at the NGA. These technological advances are also generating new geospatially oriented businesses (e.g., FourSquare, Groundspeak) and influencing academic programs. New geospatial themes are emerging in university curricula—including geospatial intelligence fusion, crowdsourcing, human geography, visual analytics, and forecasting—that could potentially improve the quality and timeliness of geospatial intelligence (NRC, 2010a). Many of these new fields take advantage of the software and networking skills of students in the millennium generation, who are technologically savvy compared to their peers a few decades ago. Moreover, new programs in universities are beginning to yield students with knowledge across multiple fields, potentially bringing new approaches to geospatial intelligence. Universities increasingly offer interdisciplinary degree programs, such as a computer science major with a GIS emphasis. The use of spatial reasoning and visualization for problem solving is now a feature of many academic programs beyond the traditional field of geography.
Although the overall supply of geospatial experts is growing, so too is the demand for these experts from other agencies and the private sector (e.g., Gewin, 2004; DiBiase et al., 2006; Solem et al., 2008). Consequently, NGA is competing with other organizations for specialists with geospatial skills. At the request of H. Greg Smith, NGA Chief Scientist, the National Research Council established an expert committee to examine the supply of experts in geospatial intelligence
disciplines and to suggest ways for NGA to obtain the scientific knowledge and analytical skills it needs over the next 20 years. The specific charge to the committee is given in Box 1.1.
This report is the second of two requested by NGA. The first report, New Research Directions for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency: Workshop Report (NRC, 2010a), summarized workshop discussions of new research directions for geospatial intelligence. The workshop considered 10 subject areas, including NGA’s five core areas and five crosscutting themes that are likely to become increasingly important to NGA over the next 15 years. Definitions of these areas, slightly refined from those given in NRC (2010a), are given in Box 1.2. This report builds from the workshop results, analyzing workforce trends and education and training programs in the 10 core and emerging areas.
An ad hoc committee will examine the need for geospatial intelligence expertise in the United States compared with the production of experts in the relevant disciplines, and discuss possible ways to ensure adequate availability of the needed expertise. In its report the committee will
1. Examine the current availability of U.S. experts in geospatial intelligence disciplines and approaches and the anticipated U.S. availability of this expertise for the next 20 years. The disciplines and approaches to be considered include NGA’s five core areas and promising research areas identified in the May 2010 NRC workshop [see Box 1.2].
2. Identify any gaps in the current or future availability of this expertise relative to NGA’s need.
3. Describe U.S. academic, government laboratory, industry, and professional society training programs for geospatial intelligence disciplines and analytical skills.
4. Suggest ways to build the necessary knowledge and skills to ensure an adequate U.S. supply of geospatial intelligence experts for the next 20 years, including NGA intramural training programs or NGA support for training programs in other venues.
The report will not include recommendations on policy issues such as funding, the creation of new programs or initiatives, or government organization.
The committee began its analysis by characterizing the 10 core and emerging areas, including their evolution, the scope of university programs offering classes and/or degrees, and the body of knowledge and skills that are generally taught. Information for this overview was drawn from professional societies, university websites, and the committee members’ own knowledge and experience. Next, the committee assessed the availability of experts in the core and emerging areas over the next 20 years (Task 1). The committee considered two sources of potential employees for NGA: (1) new graduates entering the workforce and (2) individuals currently employed in occupations that require similar knowledge and/or skills. Statistics on new graduates were obtained from the Department of Education, which tracks the number of degrees conferred by level and field of study and by citizenship. Employment statistics for more than 800 occupations were obtained from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and citizenship of employed individuals was determined from Census data. Based on the education and skill requirements laid out in NGA occupation descriptions and the committee’s evaluation of the core and emerging areas, 164 instructional programs (Appendix C) and 36 occupations (Appendix D) were deemed relevant to NGA. Although a few professional societies collect degree and employment information for some of the subject areas (e.g., geophysics, photogrammetry, remote sensing), the data are less comprehensive and consistent than the government statistics and were not analyzed in this report.
For Task 2, the committee was asked to identify gaps in the current or future availability of geospatial intelligence expertise relative to NGA’s needs. NGA’s current needs were characterized using information provided by the agency or posted on its website (Box 1.3). The NGA job listings and position descriptions provide a measure of the knowledge and skills the agency is currently seeking, and the universities where NGA recruits provide an indication of where the agency is looking for this knowledge and skills. Based on discussions with NGA managers, the committee focused on science and analysis positions (Box 1.4), not on management or support positions (e.g., administrative assistants, database administrators). Future needs were estimated from the age distribution of agency scientists and analysts and the assumption that hiring
Geodesy and geophysics
• Geodesy—the science of mathematically determining the size, shape, and orientation of the Earth, and the natu re of its gravity field in four dimensions. It includes the development of highly precise positioning techniques, which enable monitoring of dynamic Earth phenomena such as ground subsidence and sea-level change. Related terms include surveying and navigation
• Geophysics—the physics of the Earth and its environment in space, including the study of geodesy, geomag net1sm and paleomagnetism, seismology, hydrology, space physics and aeronomy, tectonophysics, and atmospheric science
Photogrammetry—the art, science, and technology of extracting reliable and accurate information about objects, phenomena, and environments from the processing of acquired imagery and other sensed data, both passively and actively, within a wide range of the electromagnetic energy spectrum.
Remote sensing—the scienoe of measuring some property of an object or phenomenon by a sensor that is not in physical contact with the object or phenomenon under study.
Cartographic science—the discipline dealing with the conoeption, production, dissemination, and study of maps as both tangible and digital objects, and with their use and analysis
Geographic Information Systems and geospatial analysis
• Geographic Information System—any system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and VISualizes data that are linked to locati on.
• Geospatial analysis—the process of applying analytical techniques to geographically referenced data sets to extract or generate new geographical information or insight
Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) fusion—the aggregation, integration, and conflation of geospatial data across time and space with the goal of removing the effects of data measurement systems and facilitating spatial analysis and synthesis across information sources
Crowdsourcing—a process in which individuals gather and analyze information and complete tasks over the Internet, often using mobile devices such as cellular phones. Individuals with these devices form Interactive, scalable sensor networks that enable professionals and the public to gather, analyze, share, and visualize local knowledge and observations and to collaborate on the design, assessment, and testing of devices and results. Related terms include volunteered geographic information, community remote sensing, and collective intelligence.
Human geography—the sc1ence of understanding, representing, and forecasting activities of ind ividuals, groups, organizations, and the social networks to which they belong within a geotemporal context. It includes the creation of operational technologies based on societal, cultural, religious, tribal, historical, and linguistic knowledge, local economy and infrastructure; and knowledge about evolving th reats within that geotemporal window Related terms include cultural geography, spatial cultural intelligence, geo-enabled network analysis, and human terrain.
Visual analytics—the science of analytic reasoning, facilitated by interactive visual interfaces. The techn iques are used to synthesize information and derive insight from massive, dynamic, ambiguous, and often conflicting data. Related terms include scientific visualization, Information visualization, geovisuallzation, and visual reasoning.
Forecasting—an operational research technique used to anticipate outcomes, trends, or expected future behav1or of a system using statistics and modeling. It is used as a basis for planning and decision making and is stated in less certain terms than a prediction Related terms include prediction and anticipatory intelligence.
would continue at the current pace but would focus on the core and emerging areas. To estimate how many experts would likely be available in the future, the committee extrapolated the trend in the number of degrees conferred over the past 10 years to 2030.
The last two tasks address mechanisms for building knowledge and skills in the geospatial disciplines now and over the next 20 years. For Task 3, the committee described current government agency, university, professional society, and private company programs that
As an intelligence agency, little information on NGA’s current activities, future plans, or the workforce needed to carry them out is publicly available. At the request of the committee, NGA provided the most essential information needed to carry out this study, including the following:
• NGA occupation descriptions (includ ing education. knowledge. and skill requirements) for current scientrst and analyst positrons
• The total number of screntists and analysts currently working rn each geospatral intellrgence occupation and then umber hired each year over the past few years.
• The ages and hrghest degrees held by the current scientrst and analyst workforce
• The courses offered at the NGA College.
• The unrversrties where NGA recruits or sends employees for training
• The occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistrcs that are most relevant to NGA
These data were provided in 2011, trends may have shrfted significan tly srnce the data were collected.
NGA did not provide strategrc information. such as NGA hr ring prioritres. problems finding ski lis or expertrse. or the basis for the NGA College curriculum. When such information was needed to support the analysis. the report states the assumptrons made by the committee so readers can follow the reasoning.
offer education or training in the disciplines, methods, and/or technologies underlying geospatial intelligence. Few of these programs are targeted to NGA’s needs. For Task 4, the committee identified a short list of actions, of varying scope, that NGA can take to help build a skilled geospatial intelligence workforce in the future.
Military intelligence has always required mapping, cartographic analysis, and the collection of geographic information (Sweeney, 1924). The United States has supported mapping and charting for military intelligence purposes since 1804, when the Army’s Lewis and Clark expedition began exploring the Louisiana Territory (Table 1.1). Mapping and charting efforts advanced significantly during World War I, in part because of the extensive use of aerial photography for battlefield intelligence (e.g., MacLeod, 1919; Collier, 1994). In the World War II era, technological improvements in aircraft and cameras greatly expanded military applications of aerial photography, and maps began to be combined with analyzed imagery (e.g., Monmonier, 1985). The development of high-altitude aircraft in the mid-1950s enabled detailed maps of military bases, shipyards, and other strategic targets to be made, revealing, for example, the presence of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba in 1962 (e.g., Richelson, 1999). The advent of satellites in the late 1950s provided the capability to photograph the Earth, measure its physical properties, and accurately determine positions of objects on the surface (Table 1.1).
NGA Scientist and Analyst Occupations
Geospatial intelligence is produced by scientists (including mathematicians) and analysts. Scientists are experts in a particular discipline, and they define NGA’s research strategy, oversee scientific activities, apply new technologies, and develop expertise and tradecraft for the agency. Analysts acquire, process, and analyze data from government and commercial sources; ensure the quality, accuracy, and currency of geospatial information; populate databases; and produce information products for military and intelligence applications. NGA distinguishes more than 30 types of geospatial intelligence analysts, based on scientific discipline (e.g., geodetic earth science, nautical cartography, political geography) or function (e.g., data analysis, development of analysis methods, crossdisciplinary issues). Some analysts address agency-wide issues, such as developing multisource strategies to address intelligence problems, discovering and evaluating new open-source data, and tasking data collection systems. Descriptions of current NGA science and analyst occupations are given in Appendix B.
In the decades following World War II, the collection and handling of intelligence information from photogrammetry, geodesy, mapping, and charting became increasingly automated (Clarke, 2009). With automation came an improved ability to integrate different types of information and to carry out new types of analyses useful to decision makers, including time-space
|1804||Lewis and Clark began to map and gather intelligence and other information on territory from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean|
|1813||The Topographical Engineers began conducting surveys to facilitate the safe movement of troops for the War of 1812|
|1835||The Navy began to produce nautical charts and, 3 years later, to make astronomical observations|
|1889||The Army began to collect and compile information on geography and foreign forces, and to communicate it to military attachés during the Spanish-American War|
|1911||First photoreconnaissance flight. Aerial photography became a major contributor to battlefield intelligence during World War I|
|1922||First modern bathymetric chart, made using sounding data collected from a Navy ship|
|1928||The Army Air Corps began producing aeronautical charts|
|1941||Second World War aviation enabled photogrammetry, photo interpretation, and geodesy to replace field surveys|
|1953||Navy aircraft began measuring magnetic variations around the Earth; project U.S. Magnet continued until 1994|
|1956||High-altitude U-2 aircraft began to carry out manned reconnaissance missions, becoming the primary source for intelligence gathering over the Soviet Union and other denied areas|
|1960||Successful return of imagery from Corona, the first photoreconnaissance satellite system in the world|
|1960||World Geodetic System (WGS 60) defined an Earth-centered orientation system and formed the basis of current global positioning systems|
|1966||Launch of the Geodetic Earth Orbiting Satellite, the first dedicated satellite for geodetic studies|
|1974||First electronic dissemination of near-real-time, near-original-quality overhead imagery to support rapid targeting and assessment of strategic threats|
|1978||Launch of the first four Global Positioning System satellites, which enabled accurate measurements of position, velocity, and time|
|1994||Presidential directive PDD-23 directed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to acquire commercial satellite data|
|1995||Unmanned aerial vehicles began taking streaming video during reconnaissance flights|
|2000||The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission began to acquire elevation data over about 80 percent of the Earth’s surface using interferometric synthetic aperture radar|
|2005||Surface warships began to navigate using digital nautical charts|
|2006||First automatic construction of the three-dimensional world from diverse sources of photographs and images|
SOURCES: Day et al. (1998); Snavley et al. (2006); Clarke (2013a); NGA historical reference chronology, <https://wwwl.nga.miV About/OurHistory/Pagesl default.aspx>.
analysis and the evaluation of natural phenomena and human activities at the Earth’s surface. NGA’s current model for producing geospatial intelligence is illustrated in Figure 1.1 and an example of an information product is shown in Figure 1.2.
Through most of the 20th century, responsibility for specific aspects of mapping, charting, aerial photography, and eventually satellite reconnaissance was distributed among multiple defense and intelligence agencies and departments. In 1996, mapping, imagery acquisition and analysis, and intelligence production were brought together from the Defense Mapping Agency, the Central Imagery Office, and other imagery and mapping departments in a single agency—the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).1 NIMA’s primary focus was on acquiring and providing imagery and maps to intelligence agencies. Increasing demands for speed, accuracy, and synthesis of geospatial information—especially since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States—led to the concept of geospatial intelligence or GEOINT, the use of imagery and geospatial data to describe and depict features and activities and their location on the Earth. In 2003, the agency’s name was changed to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to emphasize its mission of producing geospatial intelligence.
NGA is part of the Department of Defense, and it is one of 16 federal agencies responsible for national intelligence. Its emphasis is on military and intelligence
1 See NGA historical reference chronology, <https://www1.nga.mil/About/OurHistory/Pages/default.aspx>.
FIGURE 1.1 NGA’s process for analyzing geospatial information. SOURCE: Courtesy of Ed Waltz, BAE Systems.
support in foreign countries, although humanitarian and disaster assistance, both at home and abroad, is a growing area of work for NGA. For example, NGA supported U.S. troops deployed to the Indian Ocean following the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami and provided imagery to U.S. and international relief organizations.2 NGA also maintains the World Geodetic System, which is instrumental for both military and civil uses of the Global Positioning System.
NGA employs several thousand scientists and analysts, who acquire and analyze imagery and other geospatial information and deliver information products, services, and geospatial intelligence to policy makers, military decision makers, warfighters, and others. According to NGA, the largest fractions work on imagery analysis (about 40 percent), geospatial analysis (19 percent), and cartography (10 percent). Over the past few years, the agency has hired several hundred such experts each year. A bachelor’s degree or a combination of education and experience is preferred, although many NGA scientists and analysts have higher degrees. Additional training on sensors, geospatial analysis, and other subjects is provided by the National Geospatial- Intelligence College (hereafter referred to as the NGA College). NGA employees can also take classes at universities through the Vector Study Program.
This report examines the supply of experts in 10 geospatial intelligence areas, gaps between the supply of experts and NGA’s needs over the next 20 years, and ways to build necessary knowledge and skills. Chapter 2 characterizes the knowledge, skills, and academic programs in the five core areas that have historically underpinned geospatial intelligence, and Chapter 3 focuses on five emerging areas that could improve geospatial intelligence in the future. Chapter 4
2 See NGA historical reference chronology, <https://www1.nga.mil/About/OurHistory/Pages/default.aspx>.
FIGURE 1.2 Army Research Laboratory’s tactical digital hologram technology, which is being used by special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unit has a three-dimensional holographic display that incorporates human intelligence, terrain, and imagery data. SOURCE: U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
assesses the current and future supply of geospatial intelligence expertise in these core and emerging areas, based on government statistics. Chapter 5 matches the supply of experts to NGA’s needs, considering gaps in disciplinary knowledge and analytical skills, as well as where experts are recruited. Chapter 6 describes training programs in academia, government, industry, and professional societies that offer useful models for filling gaps in knowledge and skills. Potential mechanisms for building the supply of geospatial intelligence experts in the future are discussed in Chapter 7. Supporting material appears in the appendixes, including relevant university curricula and degree programs in the core and emerging areas (Appendix A), descriptions of scientist and analyst positions at NGA (Appendix B), and statistics on relevant degrees (Appendix C) and occupations (Appendix D). Biographical sketches of committee members are given in Appendix E, and a list of acronyms and abbreviations appears in Appendix F.