Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency
table of contents

Executive Summary and Key Judgments
NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context
Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA
The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders
NIMA and Its "Customers"
Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners
NIMA and Its Suppliers
NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems
NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture
Appendix A
Appendix B
Glossary of Terms

3. NIMA in Context

3.1 The National Security Context

When the Soviet Union exited the world stage left, the US national security community breathed a momentary, collective sigh of relief. The elation was, however, short-lived. Despite the clamor of the popular sentiment for a "peace dividend," the challenges to our national security, perhaps less immediately life threatening, became more numerous, more diverse, and, in some ways, more difficult.

Emerging threats notwithstanding, the United States drew down its military and intelligence capacity as it traditionally had done after resolution of each preceding conflict. The Gulf War was but a satisfying interlude to "demobilization" through which we coasted on our residual military strength and our accrued intelligence. What should have been an object lesson on the wisdom of investing in capability became, instead, the rationale for continued disinvestments because of the lopsidedness of the Gulf conflict.

There were two lessons learned, and subsequently reinforced, one by the policymakers and the public, the other by military planners.

Policymakers and the US public--having seen the vision of miraculously light American casualties and minimal collateral damage--forced "rules of engagement" to become excessively stringent (and overoptimistic). There is wishful endorsement of the kindest, gentlest, "zero-zero" warfare--zero American lives lost, zero collateral damage.

Military planners evolved Joint Vision 2010 (now 2020) that placed immense faith in the ability of the intelligence community to deliver on the military desire for continued information superiority, indeed, "dominance".

Consequently, a substantial "contingent liability" was levied on intelligence, at a time when intelligence capabilities were still being diminished apace. The result, to paraphrase a popular motion picture, is that political and military thinkers are writing checks that the Intelligence Community cannot cash!

In 2020,4 the nation will face a wide range of interests, opportunities, and challenges. This will require diplomacy that can effectively advance US interests while making war a less-likely last resort, a military that can both win wars and contribute to peace, and an intelligence apparatus that can support both. The global interests and responsibilities of the United States will endure, and there is no indication that threats to those interests and responsibilities, or to our allies, will disappear.

Three aspects of the world of 2020 have significant implications for our statecraft, our Armed Forces, and the Intelligence Community that underpins both. First, the United States will continue to have global interests and be engaged with a variety of regional actors. Transportation, communications, and information technology will continue to evolve and foster expanded economic ties and awareness of international events. Our security and economic interests, as well as our political values, will provide the impetus for engagement with international partners. For the engagement to be successful, no matter the playing field or the opponent's rules, our commercial and diplomatic "forces" must be fully informed and constitutionally prepared to prevail short of war, while our military must be prepared to "win" across the full range of military operations in any part of the world, to operate with multinational forces, and to coordinate military operations, as necessary, with government agencies and international organizations.

Second, potential adversaries will have access to the global commercial industrial base and much of the same technology as the United States. We will not necessarily sustain a wide technological advantage over our adversaries in all areas. Increased availability of commercial satellites, digital communications, and the public Internet all give adversaries new capabilities at a relatively low cost. We should not expect opponents in 2020 to engage with strictly "industrial age" tools--information-age tools will be the key to our effectiveness.

Third, we should expect potential adversaries to adapt as our capabilities evolve. We have superior conventional warfighting capabilities and effective nuclear deterrence today, but this favorable military balance is not static. We have the best intelligence and most fully informed statecraft. In the face of such strong capabilities, the appeal of asymmetric approaches and the focus on the development of niche capabilities by potential adversaries will increase. By developing and using approaches that avoid US strengths and exploit potential vulnerabilities using significantly different methods of operation, adversaries will attempt to create conditions that frustrate our US diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities.

The potential of such asymmetric approaches is perhaps the most serious danger the United States faces in the immediate future--and this danger includes long-range ballistic missiles and other direct threats to US citizens and territory. The asymmetric methods and objectives of an adversary are often far more important than the relative technological imbalance, and the psychological impact of an attack might far outweigh the actual physical damage inflicted. An adversary may pursue an asymmetric advantage on the tactical, operational, or strategic level by identifying key vulnerabilities and devising asymmetric concepts and capabilities to strike or exploit them. To complicate matters, our adversaries may pursue a combination of asymmetries, or the United States may face a number of adversaries who, in combination, create an asymmetric threat. These asymmetric threats are dynamic and subject to change, and the United States must maintain the capabilities necessary to successfully anticipate, deter, defend against, and defeat any adversary who chooses such an approach. To meet the challenges of the strategic environment in 2020, our diplomacy and our military must be able to achieve full spectrum dominance.

3.2 The Collection Context--FIA

The Commission observes that the FIA-era increase in imagery of more than an order of magnitude does not, in and of itself, imply a need for a proportionate increase in exploitation capacity. Some increase may be needed, but an N-fold increase in imagery does not necessarily translate into an N-fold increase in information content, particularly when the additional imagery capacity is used to more frequently "sample" the same target for activity analysis, or indications and warning (I&W). Watching grass grow does not take a lot of exploitation.

The Commission notes, elsewhere, that there are outstanding requirements, endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and not satisfied by FIA as currently baselined. Among these, military users of imagery, especially the US Army, argue for the importance of direct theater downlink (TDL). Of course, the argument goes beyond just the "downlink" of imagery, which is effectively accomplished with only minimal delay, today, via communications satellites. Rather, the argument is, a regional commander should be "apportioned" the space reconnaissance assets as they are in view of his theater of operations. However, National technical means, FIA included, have not been designed, heretofore, to accommodate this requirement. To modify the electro-optical imaging design would substantially reduce the available imaging time over theater as the satellite traded off imaging operations for communications operations.

The Commission notes, in passing, that at least one of the commercial satellites5 is actually a TDL design. Its tasking instructions and deposit of imagery are done by "regional operations centers" (ROCs), and inasmuch as the commercial vendor is anxious to sell "imaging minutes on orbit" the US military could experiment, today, with this concept, and "pay by the minute"--i.e., without capital investment or long-lead programming and budgeting. Cryptographic provisions to guarantee theater privacy are already in place.

3.3 Commercial Imagery

On September 24, 1999, Space Imaging successfully "launched" the world's first commercial one-meter imaging satellite, IKONOS. The US government was a positive factor in this endeavor, despite some national security reservations, and Presidential Decision Directive 23 codified US policy on foreign access to remote sensing capabilities. Space Imaging was granted a license that permitted it to sell commercial imagery at a resolution of one meter, among others.

While the importance of resolution is often overstated, improved resolution clearly allows new information to be extracted from an image. As imagery resolution moves from the tens of meters to one meter and below, military applications move beyond terrain analysis, through gross targeting, to precision targeting, bomb damage assessment, order-of-battle assessment, to technical intelligence findings.

The Commission endorses the move to allow US companies to move to higher resolution as required by the competition and demanded by the marketplace. It will demonstrate continued technical superiority and signal US government intent to keep US companies in the forefront. It will raise the bar, discourage others, and impose new barriers to entry. More importantly it will open up new markets for satellite imagery now the exclusive province of airborne photography. And the vastly improved, immediately visible resolution characteristics will substantially improve "eye appeal," capturing the imagination of the public, and especially the imagination of those from whom the new applications will flow. The vitality produced by this change cannot be overstated--this energy will fuel the next generation of NIMA-relevant COTS technology.

Until recently, NIMA has been a captive customer for satellite imagery provided by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), whose raison d'etre is building and operating satellites, pure and simple. Because of government internal accounting practices (planning, programming, and budgeting) the NRO has a capital budget to build satellites that is loosely derived from requirements that NIMA voices on behalf of its consumers.6 Once the satellites are built and launched, there is no attempt to recover sunk costs. Even operating costs for the imaging constellation, ground processing, and exploitation are not recovered. Imagery acquired from US "National technical means" is a free good.7 However, use of commercial imagery either by NIMA or by its consumers directly is not a free good; operating budgets must accommodate any imagery purchases from Space Imaging and/or its competitors. In a sense, notes the Commission, commercial imagery providers face competition from an established behemoth with deep pockets that gives away its wares.

The US government, Defense and Intelligence, and/or NIMA have not requested that the Congress appropriate substantial funds for commercial imagery. Notwithstanding, the Congress has successively appropriated "extra" monies for NIMA to purchase commercial imagery (and, presumably, value-added imagery products). The Commission is disappointed that NIMA has been slow to articulate a commercial imagery strategy that Defense and Intelligence would endorse. The Commission is more distressed by an announcement promising $1 billion for commercial imagery purchase, which has subsequently proved to be so much fiction.


4 This section paraphrases and elaborates upon the "Strategic Context" of Joint Vision 2020.

5 IKONOS, the newest imaging satellite launched and operated by Space Imaging, Thornton, Colorado.

6 "Consumers," not "customers," because, as we shall see, they do not "pay" for products in the conventional sense--no unseen hand of Adam Smith operating here!

7 But, because it is free and (therefore) heavily oversubscribed, it is rationed by an elaborate, dynamic prioritization scheme that is accused by some of being politicized as well as cumbersome.

Foreword | Executive Summary and Key Judgments | Introduction | NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context | Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA | The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders | NIMA and Its "Customers" | Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem?
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners | NIMA and Its Suppliers | NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems | NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture | Recommendations | Appendix A
Appendix B | Glossary of Terms

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