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Geospatial Intelligence Changing As Fast As Technology Itself

information-technologyThere may be no part of the IT revolution – cloud computing, mobility, Big Data, Internet of Things, to name a few – that has changed an industry as much as geospatial intelligence.

That is one conclusion to be drawn from the opening panel at GEOINT 2015, the conference held by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, at the Washington Convention Center June 22-25.

It used to be that “our job was to squeeze as much juice as we could [from images], and we prided ourselves on how many images we could collect,” said John Goolgasian, director, Source Directorate, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). “Now the remote sensing industry is going to turn our job on its head. … We have to change from thinking of ourselves as collectors to [considering ourselves] sensors.”

He added, “It’s no longer enough to collect targets and square miles of [images.] The process must change from collecting information to a multi-global understanding of activities.”

Geospatial intelligence plays a critical role in national defense and foreign policy, according to Paula Knepper, program director, Emerging Threats and Opportunities, Global Security, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Los Alamos plays a central role in national security matters related to nuclear weapons, Knepper said. The facility has three primary responsibilities with regard to nuclear weapons – stewardship of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, protecting against nuclear threats, and identifying emerging and disruptive technologies, such as advances in potential improvised nuclear devices.

“The origin of threats can be emerging, [proliferating] or nonconventional,” she said, and include threats from emerging states. Geospatial intelligence is needed to identify potential nuclear and radiological threats, and detect and deter illicit trafficking.

The U.S. Air Force also has rapidly multiplying needs for a wide range of geospatial information. Eileen Preisser, Director, Air Force GEOINT Office, noted that when military forces have gone into combat over the past couple of decades, they have been hampered by the limits of their geographic knowledge of many countries.

The Air Force also needs solid information on environmental conditions, she said. The Air Force partnered with the U.S. Navy on studying aspects of arctic conditions. Part of it is driven by the need to identify defensive weaknesses if hostile interests look at that region, she said, but it included “how to inhabit environments not conducive to the human condition.”

Gary Dunow, NGA’s Director, Analysis Directorate, said the explosion in available geospatial information is creating new challenges for the GEOINT workforce.

“We’re asking everybody to be everything,” he said, both technicians and analysts, combining both the art and the science of geospatial intelligence. “We have to preserve the technical aspects of our craft … We’re asking folks to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers, [and] at the same time have scientific skills.

“We need to think how to manage our mission in a way that frees up highly skilled, experienced [analysts] and not consider geoint as a commodity to hold separate from everybody else,” Dunow said.


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