The Future Imagery Architecture [FIA] was intended to capitalize on small satellite technology to address the needs of tomorrow's customers in the most effective way possible.
FIA,the space-borne imagery intelligence capability that was meant to operate for the next several decades, was supposed to be an incredible improvement over current systems. The satellites promised to deliver many times the data at a much-reduced interval between pictures.
The NRO formally proposed the Future Imagery Architecture Program in its Fiscal Year 1998 budget submission to Congress on 06 March 1997. The FIA program was predicated on the concept that the NRO would specify performance requirements [such as resolution and revisit rates], with the means by which the requirements are met to be specified by the contractor team. Reportedly FIA was intended to collect between eight and twenty times the volume of imagery as current systems. The FIA program, crafted with NIMA, was based on the recommendations of the 1996 Imagery Architecture Study (IAS) team led by Robert Herman, which recommended reducing the size of national intelligence satellites.
The initial "Phase A" architecture study, which detailed the attributes of a future imagery system desired by NRO customers, concluded in mid-1996 under the sponsorship of the NRO and the Central Imagery Office [subsequently merged into NIMA]. This included the identification of over 20 varying performance levels. The "Phase A" concept demonstrated that a new generation of smaller imagery satellites could be built within budget and with improved capabilities.
The "Phase B" concept definition effort began in May 1996, with the NRO working with six competing contractor teams and NIMA to determine the utility of the various increments of improvement in imagery capabilities. NIMA contributed by listing the 25-30 attributes of an imagery constellation, such as area, resolution, and accuracy of geospatial information. FIA vendors were free to propose a mixed architecture of government systems and commercial systems.
"Phase C" involves actually building the satellites and operating them. Some 234 representatives from 56 companies attended a classified NRO briefing on Phase C of FIA in January 1997. NRO realised in March 1998 that proposed industry plans exceeded the FIA budget, with NRO calculating that the procurement would cost about 25% more than the industry-submitted estimates. The NRO delayed Phase C of FIA by about six months to resolve the differences between the NRO and contractor estimates of the projected cost of the planned constellation. The launch of the next generation of imagery satellites was slipped until 2004 or 2005, a one-year delay from the original 2003 to 2004 launch goal. As of mid-1998 the NRO officials appeared to be favoring an evolutionary system of three or four imagery satellites, rather than a revolutionary architecture of 10 or 12 spacecraft.
FIA, originally intended to be carried out over the next decade or so, was to be the most expensive program in the history of the intelligence community. In 1997 and 1998 Congress imposed spending caps on the program to make sure its costs would not overwhelm the limited money that is available for other intelligence work. Despite this imposition of those spending caps, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence remained gravely concerned that the program as currently planned had the potential of being the biggest white elephant in US intelligence history, because there was inadequate funding to task the satellites, process the digital data they collect, exploit the information coming from the data, and then disseminate the information to the national policymaker, the analysts, or the military unit that needs the information. The National Reconnaissance Office was a big beneficiary of a $1.5 billion increase in intelligence spending in the fiscal year 1999 budget. However, Congressional conferees placed a cost cap on the the Future Imagery Architecture.
On 27 April 1999 Raytheon Company was awarded a contract by the NRO to develop and integrate the ground infrastructure portion of the Future Imagery Architecture. This program, known as the Mission Integration and Development (MIND) Program, will extend from 1999 through 2013, plus two one-year options for additional operations and maintenance. A key objective of the MIND team will be to provide the NRO with a state-of-the-art Intelligence Infrastructure as it enters the 21st century - combining numerous space and ground components into one integrated system. This infrastructure will equip intelligence providers and users with effective and timely access to systems and information from NRO mission areas. Raytheon, with support from its teammates Lockheed Martin, SAIC and GDE, will be responsible for the MIND development, total system architecture integration and test, and system operations and maintenance. The contract, awarded to Raytheon Systems Company's Imagery and Geospatial Systems Division, will be performed primarily at its Garland, Texas, and Reston, Va., operations, and at Lockheed Martin's Valley Forge, Pa., and San Jose, Calif., operations.
In early Spring 1999 Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre commercial imagery initiative proposed by NRO Director Keith Hall. The goal of the plan is to satisfy general imagery requirements through commercial vendors, while keeping more advanced imagery systems under government control. In July 1999 the CIA and DOD approved the $1 billion muti-year budget for the initiative, which is part of the Future Imagery Architecture. Half this amount had already been included in the NRO and NIMA budgets for 2001 through 2005.
Initially it appeared that "Phase C" would be separated into satellite, integration and ground segments. Previous NRO procurements had been split among satellites, ground hardware and data processing. Six teams were competing for different parts of FIA. Some vendors were bidding on all segments, and theoretically a single contractor could win it all. In all cases, three or more teams were competing for a major component. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Spectrum Astro were initial bidders for the FIA electro-optical spacecraft. These three companies, along with Orbital Sciences Corp. and Loral, bid on the imaging radar spacecraft. Both Northrop Grumman and TRW [a major imagery satellite subcontractor] were allied exclusively as subcontractors to Lockheed Martin in the FIA bid. Lockheed Martin supplied all of the NRO imaging spacecraft currently in orbit. The Improved CRYSTAL [Advanced KH-11 KENNAN] electro-optical spacecraft are built at a facility in Sunnyvale CA which was part of the original Lockheed Corporation. The ONYX [LACROSSE] imaging radar satellites are built at a Denver plant that was part of the former Martin Marietta Corp. The final spacecraft under these contracts are expected to be launched by 2002.
Lockheed Martin and Boeing were the only bidders on the NRO's request for proposal, which required three bids: one for the electro-optical satellites, one for the imagine radar satellites and a combined bid for both. The NRO, under pressure from Congress to cap costs, asked the companies for winner-take-all bids to build both imagery systems. Boeing offered substantial savings through use of common spacecraft platforms and infrastructure on the two systems. While Lockheed Martin's proposal used common platforms, it was said to be less innovative, offering less performance at a higher cost. Boeing's proposal was about $1-billion cheaper than that of Lockheed-Martin.
On 03 September 1999 the NRO awarded a contract to the Boeing Company, Seal Beach CA, to develop, provide launch integration and operate the nation's next generation of imagery reconnaissance satellites. This award was the largest and last element of the NRO's Future Imagery Architecture program.
But as a result of poor contractor performance, faulty NRO management, and inadequate oversight, the Future Imagery Architecture program failed to achieve its objectives. In fact, it would prove to be the most expensive failure in the history of U.S. intelligence.