National Imagery Transmission Format Standard (NITFS)

The National Imagery Transmission Format Standard (NITFS) is the standard for formatting digital imagery and imagery-related products and exchanging them among members of the Intelligence Community (IC), the Department of Defense (DOD), and other departments and agencies of the United States Government as governed by Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) with those departments and agencies.

The initial NITFS purpose was to standardize the imagery format and associated data being transmitted from/to secondary imagery dissemination systems (SIDS). Due to the growing NITFS acceptance, it is now being applied to imagery dissemination systems in general, not SIDS alone. The purpose of NITFS is to transmit a file composed of an image accompanied by subimages, symbols, labels, text, and other information that relate to the image. One of the main features of the NITFS is that it allows several items of each data type to be included in one file, yet any data types may be omitted. The NITF file incorporates the CGM standard for graphics and accommodates user-selectable compression for images. The file is submitted to the Message Transfer Facility (MXF), which allows it to be transferred using any of a set of user-selectable protocols and media. The output is a message which, by conforming to the standards and their use, is compliant with the NITFS.

The evolution of computer microprocessor technology in the early 1980s made it feasible to build numbers of systems that could interchange annotated digital imagery. By 1984, the need for a common data format became apparent, and a project to develop such a format was initiated. The original goal was to develop a co-standard that could be added to all of the existing systems and incorporated into new systems during the acquisition process.

NITF 1.0

Version 1.0 of the NITF, which included only the image format, was approved in 1987 for use as a demonstration capability but not as a general implementation baseline. A formal structure was created to continue the development of NITF. The NITF Technical Board (NTB) was created to manage development, validation, certification, and integration. A Defense Support Project Office (DSPO) representative was appointed to manage development and co-chair the NTB. An Intelligence Communications Architecture (INCA) Project Office representative was appointed to manage validation, certification, and testing, and to co-chair the NTB.

NITF 2.0

Development of an improved version of NITF began in 1988. Initially, the new version was called NITF 2.0. The key improvement over the earlier version of NITF was the inclusion of a communications support capability, to enable NITF to be transmitted over tactical circuits. The primary communications support capability was the communications protocol TACO2. Additionally, improved image compression, forward error correction, and enhanced graphics algorithms began development. In 1991, NITF began conversion to a DoD standard. To mark this, the name was changed to the National Imagery Transmission Format Standard (NITFS). NITFS now encompasses not only the NITF 2.0 file format, but also includes supporting standards for image compression, transmission protocols, and graphics. The Handbook is the top level document in the document structure. There are supporting format and data representation standards as well as the embraced protocol standards and Technical Interface Specifications (TIS), the latter providing detailed implementation guidance. In 1992, the Image Handling Standards and Guidelines document for Commercial Analyst Workstation (CAWS) adopted the NITF 2.0 file format (only) as the format for full frame National imagery to be distributed from IDEX II, System III, and Low Cost Media. Also in 1992, development responsibility moved to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) and was incorporated into the Defense Standardization Program under the auspices of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

NITF 2.1

The imagery community is planning the transition from NITF2.0 (Mil Std 2500A) to NITF2.1 (Mil Std 2500B). The new military standard is being coordinated and reviewed with an anticipated date for CM baseline of September 1997. NITF2.1 will provide increased capability and flexibility. NITF2.1 will include JPEG compression, CGM for graphics, new decompression algorithms, changes to address the Y2K issue, and implementation of USMTF structured text. As implementations transition from NITF2.0 to NITF2.1, there will be a need to maintain backward compatibility with NITF2.0. This will allow continued interoperability with legacy 2.0 systems that have not yet transitioned and provide access to the vast number of archived 2.0 formatted files. All currently fielded imagery systems must be NITF 2.1 compliant or replaced by NITF 2.1 compliant systems within two years of the start date for the NITFS Certifcation, Test, and Evaluation (CTE) Program. To support interoperability during the transition period, all NITF 2.1 compliant systems must have a mode of operation that allows for proper interpretation and use of NITF Version 1.1 formatted files and that limits the creation of an NITF file content to the constraints of NITF version 1.1. Developmental imagery systems must be tested for and achieve NITF 2.0 compliance prior to fielding.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (ASD(C3I)) has mandated compliance with the NITFS for all DoD SIDS. In 1989, on behalf of the Intelligence Community, COMIREX established the NITFS as the standard for imagery transmission. The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) oversees the NITFS Certification Test and Evaluation (CTE) Program that determines compliance with the NITFS. The Defense Information System Agency's (DISA) Joint Interoperability Test Center (JITC), located at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, serves as NIMA's Executive Agent for execution of NITFS test-related activities.

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