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GEOINT 2015The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation kicked off the 2015 GEOINT Symposium in Washington, D.C. this morning. The theme for this year’s event is, “Opening Aperture: Charting New Paths.”

Jeffrey Harris, the chairman of the board of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, kicked off this year’s event with a rousing focus on innovation. The GEOINT revolution is happening worldwide, with an extension of an information infrastructure that extends to create a smarter world and smarter cities. Every day geospatial awareness is increasing, and more decision makers understand the importance of geo information. Application providers are customizing solutions that take advantage of years of data collection to provide new tools that extend the power to new operational imperatives. The evolution and transformation that is in front of us in truly exciting. 

Joan Dempsey, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, acted as the master of ceremonies. The location in Washington provides an opportunity to educate a broader group of government players, and it also offers an opportunity to obtain speakers who it’s hard enough to get to move across town, let alone across the country. 

Managing the downsizing of the Department of Defense is the challenge of the Deputy Secretary Robert. O. Work, with acquisition challenges, a need for increased innovation, and the challenge of how Washington reduces budgets. Work addressed the challenge of the growth of threats throughout the world, the country’s space technology capabilities that are being challenged, the importance of geospatial intelligence, and the need to embrace innovation and change.

Work discussed the danger of Russia, with what appears to be the end of 25 years of European and U.S. cooperation. The country’s focus on dominating the Arctic and its modernization of nuclear capabilities makes it all the more important to engage. The competitive nature of China’s improving military capability is also a worry, with the need to hedge against this competition with deterrent capabilities. To preserve the peace, we have to match capabilities, we have to project power and defeat our adversaries projection of power, and we need to demonstrate superior capabilities.

When the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) came out of the black, the space architecture that we build during the Cold War, allowed for the deployment of smart weapons across the full battle theater. This allowed us to be an aggressive first mover and dominate conventional warfare in ways that we couldn’t do in the past — projecting more power, more swiftly, at less cost, with more precision and with fewer casualties.

The next 25 years is going to look a lot different with a security environment changing. Our technology superiority is being eroded quickly in a way that is uncomfortable. Many countries are pursuing advanced weapon development at levels not seen since the Cold War. Our post-Cold War budget cuts are eliminating our ability to keep up.

Space has been a virtual sanctuary. Countries like China and Russia are targeting our space technology and we are vulnerable. We are charged to make this more resilient so that we can continue to rely on space-based command and control, missile detection and tracking, satellite links and space-derived data that informs our intelligence providers. We deter when we can and fight when we must, so we must be prepared to prevail in conflicts that extend into space. We need to devote and divert resources to space security. In the 2016 budget, $5 Billion have been diverted to these issues.

Work spoke about doubling down on geospatial intelligence, knowing more and knowing more quickly. The idea is to get inside an adversaries decision making cycle, where insight to action is shrunk with increased automation. Today, sensors and platforms are commoditized. In the next  five years it looks that there will be more than 500 satellites that will revolutionize the way we sense the planet. We need to harness these new constellations, if they come to pass, and continue to move the community beyond pixels to become a service provider. There’s a need to get into multi- and hyper-spectral imaging as well as real-time video — making sense of a mountain of data to understand and predict what is happening — Coherence out of Chaos.

Investment in data science – big data and analytics – are increasing, with a new office located in Silicon Valley. While there is a look to the commercial sector for innovation, this will pair with the workforce innovation taking place within our government organizations.

Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), spoke to the increased participation of the NGA workforce in this year’s event, with a 500 percent increase given this year’s location. Cardillo has been the director for 9 months now, and has embraced the challenge with many new initiatives.

There is an unchanging nature to intelligence work, testing facts and filling in the gaps, with the bedrock of location at the center. Our collective intelligence is increasingly integrated. As someone that started as a photographic interpreter, Cardillo has seen an amazing transformation. 

For decades intelligence was guarded and hoarded like currency, it is old power, and it is still useful. Today, intelligence needs to act less like a currency and more like a current, to channel it and partner. NGA has a revised mission, while still adhering to their mission of: Know the Earth, Show the Way, Understand the World.

Cardillo outlined four goals:

  • to sustain a more agile and diverse workforce that are empowered to deliver context and coherence to the remarkable explosion of sensors and databases.
  • to expand team NGA to team GEOINT with more of an all-encompassing team that reaches out to academic and industry partners, as well as international partners with more cooperation, openness and integration.
  • to break down the barriers for inclusion with greater speed and flexibility in acquisition, succeeding in the open and being as effective in unclassified world as in the classified world.
  • to increase the value by being customer centric with the embrace of cloud infrastructure and custom application development with a Web-first strategy.

The greatest accomplishments in this country are when things are out in the open. The smartest people thing hard about the future, while also keeping an eye on the past. We know we’re better off together, this is our movement, and this is our moment.

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