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Funds crunch force US govt to go slow on use of commercial imagery

Paris: The US government expects to increase its use of commercial satellite imagery for civil and military purposes in the coming years, but the increase will “descend, slightly” from its previously expected level, US National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper has said.

“There is no bigger fan of commercial imagery than I,” Clapper said in his address to the GeoInt 2012 conference in Florida, US. “It has tremendous advantages [and] can be shared with foreign allies and partners.”

Nonetheless, Clapper said “in a constrained funding environment” tough choices needed to be made and one of those choices was to slow the previously planned rate of increase in government purchases of commercial satellite imagery.

The core of the government’s satellite imagery purchasing is the EnhancedView contract signed with two commercial imagery providers, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye. The companies had been awarded nearly equal portions of the USD 7.3 billion EnhancedView programme, which began in September 2010 and was envisioned as a 10-year programme.

But EnhancedView’s contract structure was a series of one-year commitments that would be renewed nine times.

Earlier this year, the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) informed GeoEye that its EnhancedView funding for the coming year would be sharply reduced from previous levels. For the moment, DigitalGlobe’s funding under the programme appears intact.

Following months of doubt about NGA funding levels — doubts that caused the two companies’ stock to plummet — the NGA decision led DigitalGlobe and GeoEye to propose a merger of the two companies.

The proposed merger is under review by the US Justice and Defense departments.

Exactly what the future shape and funding volume of EnhancedView will be is not clear. Clapper said government spending on commercial imagery is still increasing.

“All we’ve done is descend, slightly, the slope of the increase on commercial imagery,” he told the GeoInt conference, organised by the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. “It’s still very important and we’ll still need it. But in the whole landscape of national intelligence programmes we had to make some hard choices based on the demand and the requirements versus what we can afford,” he added.

Source: Space News