Washington: The White House has ordered a study to assess how much should the multi-billion dollar commercial satellite imagery budget be cut after reports that the cut may be too deep.
The study is being led by Roger Mason, Associate Director for systems and resource analyses in the Office of Director of National Intelligence, and Kevin Meiners, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Intelligence for portfolio, programs and resources. It should be done by April, 2012.
The cuts come in the context of the major intelligence budget cuts first made public at the Geoint intelligence conference, said to be around USD 25 billion over the next decade. Word from the opaque intelligence community is that Clapper and the Pentagon’s undersecretary for intelligence, Mike Vickers, had to come up with significant budget cuts two months ago and zeroed in on the commercial imagery pie. The cuts were significant, though we don’t how big and haven’t been able to find anyone who will admit to knowing how big they were yet. But they were deep. At the Geoint conference in San Antonio, a senior intelligence official confirmed that a majority of cuts would come out of NGA. That would be consistent with cuts to Enhanced View since NGA oversees those contracts. According to one source, there were even discussions about exercising the space equivalent of eminent domain and taking over the two companies’ satellites, though those reportedly were shot down (think US 193).
But the deep cuts don’t really make sense to the former senior intelligence official, unless they reflect a tilt to the National Reconnaissance Office’s capabilities. The former intelligence official said the NRO view is that the imagery collected by the two companies is “something we can do in our spare time, but the problem is they have no spare time.” Creating the detailed maps that EnhancedView makes possible is crucial for military and intelligence pilots, as well as for senior planners in the Pentagon and intelligence community. The NRO can produce much better maps, because of its much more expensive higher resolution satellites, so the bias among many intelligence officials is to rely on NRO data rather than on the companies.
But the former senior intelligence official said the NRO almost never has what could be called down time to handle that mission, even as the country faces the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pulling US troops out will not affect the need for either commercial imagery or the NRO’s more exquisite products.