“Imagery is a core component of our national security that supports our troops, foreign policy, homeland security and the needs of our intelligence community.” – Dennis C. Blair
Director of National Intelligence*
Recognising the growing importance of imagery for national security, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Offi ce of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) recently put together a plan to modernise the nation’s aging satelliteimagery architecture by prudently evolving governmentowned satellite designs and enhancing the use of US commercial providers. Some of the features of the fi nal plan are:
- Government-owned satellites would be developed, built and operated by the National Reconnaissance Offi ce (NRO). The unique capabilities of these satellites would give the nation a timely, and often decisive, information advantage.
- The DoD and the Intelligence Community would increase the use of imagery available through US commercial providers. Th is additional capability would provide the government with more fl exibility to respond to unforeseen challenges. Th ese satellites would be available sooner than the much more capable NROdeveloped and acquired systems, making them useful as a near-term supplement and backup to the government’s existing imagery architecture.
- The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) would continue to provide the infrastructure that integrates capabilities as well as imagery products – all of which would be available on a timely basis for military, intelligence, foreign policy and civilian users.
The aim of the plan is, as Blair puts it, “to ensure that a system is put in place that will not have imagery gaps in the future.”
And in what can be described as a step towards that direction, NGA recently awarded contracts worth USD 7.3 billion to GeoEye Imagery Collection Systems Inc. and DigitalGlobe Inc. under its EnhancedView commercial imagery programme.
“Th ese contracts will meet NGA, Intelligence Community and Department of Defense needs for additional amounts of imagery beyond what current contracts provide as well as support humanitarian and crisis support eff orts,” the NGA said in its press release.
EnhancedView programme became operational from September 1, 2010, upon expiration of NGA’s earlier project, NextView. Interestingly, the two companies selected for the current programme are the same that were involved with the previous project. However, under the new programme, NGA has asked for some capabilities that are a little better than what is permitted to the commercial industry, that is, as per the reports, the two companies will provide images approaching a quarter-meter. As per the US law, the satellite operators are prohibited from selling imagery with resolution better than half-a-meter to anyone but the US government and certain allies.
Explains Karyn Hayes Ryan, Director of commercial imagery, data, programmes and services at NGA, “EnhancedView provides greater access, priority tasking and improved capability and capacity from the next series of US commercial imagery satellites. In fact, if all options are exercised, it nearly doubles the capacity.”
Adds Matthew O’Connell, GeoEye’s Chief Executive Offi cer and President, “The production part of the award is the same arrangement as we had under NextView, except that it’s larger. It’s referred to as an IDIQ contract – Indefinite Delivery, Indefi nite Quantity.”
While GeoEye has received an order of USD3.8 billion, DigitalGlobe has been awarded USD3.5 billion (refer boxes for details). Th e period of performance for the contracts is 10 years if all options are exercised. The initial period is of one-year, with nine, one-year options. As with all government contracts, EnhancedView programme’s funding too is subject to Congressional budget approval. “We awarded each company a contract to deliver commercial imagery to the government to assist in humanitarian, disaster relief, mapping and other mission requirements,” said Ryan.
GeoEye described the programme as a long-term, sustaining contract that makes commercial imagery an integral part of the US national imagery architecture. For the company, the contract means a massive investment in its new highresolution satellite, GeoEye-2, with NGA pumping in USD337 million for the project.
“With this award, we’ll continue the accelerated development of our GeoEye-2 satellite so that it is operational in 2013. We will also upgrade our infrastructure and continue expanding our Web-delivery systems so that we can deliver the world’s best commercial imagery to the NGA and our other customers anywhere, anytime,” said Matthew O’Connell.
The company has already given Lockheed Martin the contract to build the GeoEye-2 satellite. GeoEye-2 will have similar optical performance as GeoEye-1 but with better resolution. It will orbit at 652 km and have a resolution of 33 cm. It will also have control moment gyros to allow it to maneuver faster for point target collection.
For DigitalGlobe, the contract involves enhancement of the ground infrastructure for capturing and delivering satellite imagery. Th is is considered to be absolutely essential since as per the deal, DigitalGlobe will lower its WorldView-2 satellite’s orbit from 770 kilometers to 496 kilometers. Although lowering the satellite’s orbit sharpens its imagetaking ability, it reduces its fi eld of view.
“Under the terms of the agreement with NGA, DigitalGlobe will supply satellite imagery from the WorldView satellite constellation, value added products, infrastructure enhancements and other services that support the increasing geospatial intelligence needs of the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense and civil agencies,” said the company spokesperson. DigitalGlobe adds, “Over the next two years, we are increasing the number of ground receiving stations that support our collection capacity, enabling us to speed up the collection and download process. So by lowering WorldView-2 satellite’s orbit, our overall capacity will not change. In fact once we add WorldView-3 to our constellation, we expect a 160 per cent increase in collection capacity.” DigitalGlobe has already started work on WorldView-3, which is scheduled for launch by the end of 2014. It has recently signed contracts, reported to be worth USD307 million, with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation and the ITT Corporation to build the satellite’s platform and imager, respectively. “Like WorldView-2, which was launched just one year ago, WorldView-3 will be capable of capturing 8-band multispectral high-resolution. Th is 8-band technology, off ered only by DigitalGlobe, allows us to capture the colour of the earth more accurately than ever before so that we can deliver a more detailed view of the earth and help our customers analyse information in completely new ways. We are on target with our current milestones,” said the company.
While the two companies are ecstatic about the contracts, many have expressed fear that the agreement is a refl ection of commercial industry’s continued dependence on the government’s support for survival. Whatever may be the case, one thing is sure, as in the words of Matthew O’Connell, “The EnhancedView programme is the clearest evidence that the commercial industry is integral to the nation’s intelligence mission. Our government has made a big commitment – and it’s obvious that the nation is going to be relying on the commercial imagery industry for years to come.”
* The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the principal intelligence adviser to the US President, the National Security Council and senior policy makers and oversees 16 federal organisations that make up the US Intelligence community.