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
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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
 


13. NIMA Research and Development: A Road Less Traveled

NIMA inherits from its forebears, principally NPIC and DMA, a spotty record in research and development, which was largely done by others on behalf of these organizations. Inasmuch as the Commission recommends that NIMA be an "acquiring" organization, versus a "developing" organization, it is hard to argue for an in-house R&D capability of other than the most modest proportions. Nonetheless, there is considerable merit in looking over the shoulders of those who do research and there is considerable research and development that could profitably be undertaken to support NIMA's mission. It is important, then, that NIMA be an smart sponsor for such R&D--smart in the sense that it knows, generally, what technological breakthroughs will advance its mission, and that it has some plan for technology insertion if and when R&D delivers.

The Commission is quite concerned about the level of research and development conducted by and on behalf of NIMA. Imagery and geospatial activities in the national security sector are only partially congruent with those of interest to the commercial information technology sector. The Commission is convinced that inadequate R&D holds hostage the future success of TPED, USIGS, and indeed of US information superiority. Here, we provide some examples of areas where NIMA, and its R&D partners, need to be cognizant, if not involved directly with advanced technology.

Specializing in the higher value-added aspects of TPED will ultimately require NIMA to do more technology. Maps and electro-optical images are readily understood, the former through tons of experience and the latter through analogy with the human eye. Even multispectral imaging (MSI) is just a color image. But by the time one gets to the fine spectral slices of hyperspectral imaging (HSI), much less ultraspectral imaging (USI), analogy to human experience thins. One needs, for instance, a thorough catalog of objects and surface chemistries to detect the meaning of this or that reflection. This also holds true for sophisticated synthetic aperture radar (SAR) interpretation. Even more technology is necessary to defeat the natural effects of atmospheric distortion or the deliberate effects of denial and deception. Further research is also warranted for ground and air moving target indicators (AMTI and GMTI) technology, which, when combined with SAR technology, might possibly provide innovative ways to find targets such as SCUD TELs, for example.

Speed (faster cycle-times) is another potential area of competitive advantage that can be enhanced by technology. An enormous ground infrastructure helps NIMA bring large volumes of space-based imagery to earth quickly. But further networking and error-correction technologies are required in order to fulfill the promise of sensor-to-shooter, or more so, sensor-to-seeker-especially if NIMA is required to provide informed, real-time input without slowing the decision loop. Similarly, distributed access-the ability to get product into a variety of devices by taking proper account of their limitations (e.g., a palmtop's limited screen and memory)-is another potentially rich technology thrust area. Techniques to recognize targets or detect changes automatically can permit analysts to examine much larger swaths of territory and defeat an enemy's strategy of hiding in the vast open. Similar techniques and technologies can also counter an adversary's strategy to hide what he is doing through denial and deception.

In the very near future, third generation wireless handheld devices will be available with much higher data rates, digital and voice data, integrated with or connected to GPS, Intel and other CPUs, laser range finders, azimuth indicators, map and image display devices, etcetera, making the sensor-to-shooter-with reachback technologically achievable. The Joint Expeditionary Digital Information program has demonstrated many of these interconnected capabilities with second-generation wireless devices. Experiments with this program at Fort Polk during the Army Warfighter Experiment were, on balance, very successful in demonstrating the promise of this sort of capability.

The DoD vision of joint fire against time critical targets requires imagery and geospatial communication "with the foxhole" (weapons system, platform) in order to provide the georeferenced updates that are essential to the Common Operational Picture (COP). NIMA, with its obvious vested interests, should have a technological leadership role in this area.

Geospatial precision is another current and potential strength of NIMA. The ability to render operational areas in three dimensions supports a simulation ability good enough to be considered virtual reality-and indispensable for preparing warfighters for difficult missions. Accurate digital elevation modeling permits closer nap-of-the-earth flying, an increased ability to use terrain to mask or unmask operations, and better weaponeering. Accurate geolocation and mensuration can enable new generations of fire-and-forget weapons with less risk of collateral damage. New instruments, greater sophistication in their use, and the innovative use of knowledge bases can yield substantial gains in accuracy.

NIMA should aggressively explore ways to realize the large potential for improving effectiveness through the "force multiplier" opportunity in automated extraction tools for both geospatial and image analysis.

In general, NIMA ought to be led more aggressively in the search for collaborative relationships with all organizations doing imagery and geospatial R&D including the CIA, NRO, CMO (Central MASINT Office of DIA) and even civilian agencies (e.g., DoE's weapons detection software, and NIH's image-extraction from mammography research) as well as public and private corporate high-technology institutions (e.g., Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MIT, Stanford and commercial contributors).

But tracking and performing R&D across such a spectrum requires funding. The Commission finds that NIMA's current budget for R&D is far from adequate, and the Director of NIMA is committed to trying to increase the NIMA R&D account. The Commission agrees that a larger percentage of the NIMA budget should be devoted to R&D, once the overall budget realistically is consonant with the mission. To set a benchmark, the Commission notes that the NRO's Directorate of Advanced Science and Technology (AS&T) has a firm claim on 10-percent of the NRO's resources. The Commission strongly believes that D/NIMA should direct that creation of a technology road map to encompass the domains discussed above. It may not matter whether the R&D is executed within NIMA or is contracted out to centers of excellence in various organizations under NIMA's direction.

While the Commission did not dwell overly long on a search for technologies that could materially improve NIMA's prosecution of its mission, it does offer the following table of technologies that, on the surface, at least, could be profitably pursued. In fact, there are few if any surprises in that table, and many of the topics are addressed at some level at various times.

Technologies That Can Provide the Edge

Multispectral Imagery (MSI)

Hyperspectral Imagery (HSI)

Ultraspectral Imagery (USI)

MSI, HSI, and USI are technologies to collect precise imagery of successively finer spectral resolution. The NIMA advantage would be the ability to extract useful information from images otherwise unremarkable to the human eye.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)

Ground/Air Moving Target Indicator (MTI)

SAR and MTI permit all-weather day-night imaging of objects and detection of those which are moving. The NIMA advantage would be processing such information to find and characterize mobile targets in real time.

Ground Infrastructure

Space Relays

They permit large and fast dumps of data from space and the ability to circulate such information in quantity once landed. The NIMA advantage would be greater collection (because storage between drops is less a constraint) and faster image processing (thanks to fast picture-cleaning and because satellites are in more frequent contact with the earth).

Sensor-to-Shooter

Sensor-to-Seeker

Real-time linkages from sensor assets directly to warfighters or weapons, respectively. The NIMA advantage would be the ability to strike targets while at or near where they are found (or can be predictably tracked to).

Distributed Access

The ultimate expression of NIMA-in-a-box; imagery intelligence and other GIS information to the foxhole (or cockpit, or CIC). The NIMA advantage would be the ability to give warfighters exquisite situational awareness and precise targeting.

Automatic Target Recognition (ATR)

Automatic Change Detection

They permit large images to be scanned by computer with relevant details (e.g., targets, changes) picked out. The NIMA advantage would be the ability to process large areas quickly (e.g., to find SCUDs or detect potential nuclear detonation sites).

3D Virtual Reality

The ultimate mission-planning tool. NIMA's advantage would be the ability to insert accurate three-dimensional GIS data (e.g., urban data, imagery atop topographic data) to permit mission testing, and rehearsal on the fly.

Counter Denial and Deception (D&D)

D&D permits adversaries to hide or fake what they are doing from sensors. The NIMA advantage would be the ability to defeat such strategies.

Digital Elevation Modeling

Deep detailed knowledge of the earth's surface. The NIMA advantage would be in supporting terrain-following weapons (e.g., cruise missile TERCOM) and terrain-masking tactics (e.g., used by Apache Longbow), and one day, more effective urban operations.

Geo-location and Mensuration

The ability to locate and measure objects precisely. The NIMA advantage would be the ability to do so without ground reference points.

Automated Map "Finishing"

Anything that would permit automatic finishing would not only save man-hours, but permit NIMA products to appear at intermediate resolutions (e.g., 1:100,000 rather than just 1:50,000 or 1:250,000). The ability to update data sets from imagery without human intervention would be helpful when supporting operations with timelines measured in hours and days.


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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