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Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency Report of the Independent Commission on the National Imagery and Mapping Agency
table of contents

Executive Summary and Key Judgments
NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context
Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA
The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders
NIMA and Its "Customers"
Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners
NIMA and Its Suppliers
NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems
NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture
Appendix A
Appendix B
Glossary of Terms

Executive Summary and Key Judgments

Late in the fall of 1999, Congress requested the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to form a Commission to review the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a new agency perceived by some to be struggling toward coherency as the national security environment and US doctrine--e.g., Joint Vision 2010--evolved mercilessly around it. A proximal event was the disappointing realization that design and acquisition of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) had sorely neglected the value-adding systems and processes known collectively as "TPED"--the tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination of the imagery collected by reconnaissance satellites.

The Commission, formed early in 2000 to review key dimensions of strategy and performance of NIMA, has completed its work and offers a number of conclusions and a few recommendations. Several supporting studies were performed by RAND and will be made available in their entirety to the Director of NIMA. The Commission also had the benefit of a number of prior studies, including one recently published by the Defense Science Board. Few of the issues that arose in the course of the investigation were unexpected; most had been previewed by the earlier reports.

The Commission validates the charge that the Intelligence Community is "collection centric," thinking first of developing and operating sophisticated technical collection systems such as reconnaissance satellites, and only as an afterthought preparing to properly task the systems and to process, exploit, and disseminate the collected products.

The Commission concludes that, although some progress has been made, the promise of converging mapping with imagery exploitation into a unified geospatial information service is yet to be realized, and NIMA continues to experience "legacy" problems, both in systems and in staff. Admittedly, these problems are not of NIMA's making--it inherited two disparate cultures, an expanding mission, and inadequate resources. Notwithstanding, the Commission believes that timely development of a robust geospatial information "system" (GIS) is critical to achieving national security objectives in the 21st century. The Director of NIMA understands this and the Commission has every expectation that he will fulfill the promise, circumstances permitting.

The Commission observes the traditional short tenure of senior-most leadership among Combat Support Agencies and is concerned that, with a nominal tour length of two to three years, the current vision and momentum may not endure sufficiently to become institutionalized. The senior-most NIMA leadership garners high marks, but some NIMA management strata are of uneven quality.

The Commission finds NIMA attempting to modernize all systems simultaneously--anticipating the FIA--with high-caliber systems engineering and acquisition personnel in dangerously short supply both in NIMA and in the Intelligence Community at large, which is simultaneously trying to modernize signals intelligence (SIGINT) and bring next-generation reconnaissance satellites online.

The Commission questions whether US military doctrine has evolved to so rely on intelligence--imagery, especially--that it may become unsupportable with current investments. The need to precisely engage--with strategic considerations--any and every tactical target, without collateral damage, without risk to American lives, requires exquisite knowledge immediately prior to, and immediately subsequent to, any strike. Demonstrably, US imagery intelligence cannot support this activity on any meaningful scale without precarious neglect of essential, longer-range issues without additional resources.

The Commission noted occasional competition for intelligence resources between the Department of Defense (DOD) and non-DOD users of intelligence that borders on the unhealthy. Positive leadership must be exerted jointly and sincerely by SECDEF, the Joint Chiefs, and the DCI, who must first reconcile any differences between and among themselves. NIMA, itself, must be more attuned to impending imbalances.

The Commission learned that in a comprehensive requirements review that helped define FIA, considerable imaging requirements were allocated to commercial and airborne imagery: In peacetime, less than 50% of required area coverage is allocated to FIA, while commercial and airborne assets accounted for the majority of peacetime area allocations. For peacetime point coverage the reverse is true, with the bulk of peacetime point targets allocated to FIA, and a minority to airborne and commercial assets. During a major theater conflict, about half of both area and point coverage, are allocated to FIA, while commercial and airborne assets combine to meet the other half of all requirements.

FIA holds to the claim that it will meet all its allocations; however, because of negligible budgeting to date for commercial imagery, and proposed reductions in airborne investment, OPSTEMPO and PERSTEMPO--the FIA era still might not live up to its billing as eliminating collection scarcity. Compounding the problem, the Commission could find no credible plans--i.e., adequately funded program--to integrate commercial and airborne products into FIA and/or TPED.

The Commission echoes the sentiments of Congress with respect to the halting way in which the Intelligence Community is embracing commercial imagery collection--processing and exploitation, as well. In retrospect, inadequate notice was taken of the potential availability of high-quality commercial imagery as a part of the larger FIA architecture. In the spirit of Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 23, the Commission is inclined to endorse the US-industry move to resolutions of 0.5 meters, the capabilities of which should be fully and aggressively incorporated into a serious plan that would, inter alia, remove the current fiscal disincentives that discourage end-users from opting for commercial imagery when it can otherwise meet their needs.

The Commission applauds NIMA's outsourcing of products--largely cartographic, to date--and agrees that considerably more may be warranted, including value-added geospatial products, selected imagery analysis products, and specialized, "science-based" imagery exploitation. Indeed, the Commission wonders whether the time may be right to consider externalizing the operation of almost all legacy systems and legacy products, consistent with assured continuity of service and provision for crisis capacity. The benefits would include freeing up scarce-skilled US government (USG) personnel and relief from the strain on the management attention span of NIMA and the Intelligence Community.

The Commission asked hard questions about key aspects of imagery-TPED. Is the design for TPED adequately understood? Is new thinking being incorporated aggressively and balanced with sound management of technical risk? Are users' future needs well enough understood and provided for? Does the TPED design accelerate the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts--the promise, after all, of creating NIMA? Is the TPED approach grounded in modern information systems thinking? And, is there a plan for rapid insertion of new technology? Is NIMA, with its current staffing, capable of managing the acquisition of TPED? Is the likely cost of TPED fully reflected in current budgets? The Commission acknowledges the herculean task of modernizing while under resourced and simultaneously attempting to satisfy the increasing demand for its staple products.

The Commission found reason to be concerned about the level of research and development conducted by and on behalf of NIMA. Imagery and geospatial activities in the national security sector are only partially congruent with those of interest to the commercial information technology sector. The Commission is convinced that woefully inadequate R&D holds hostage the future success of TPED, the US Imagery and Geospatial Service (USIGS), and indeed of US information superiority. Nor does the Commission see sufficient, aggressive, and effective regard by NIMA for the issues of technology insertion.

The Commission feels that US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity makes a robust imagery-TPED absolutely critical, but does not see this urgency reflected in the programming and budgeting for TPED. By way of explanation or excuse, critics have recited their litany of NIMA-TPED ills. While the Commission agrees with some of the criticisms, it fails to see how that situation can be improved by under funding.

Finally, the Commission suggests that the US loss of satellite imagery exclusivity places a hefty premium on SIGINT-IMINT convergence--sooner rather than later--but questions whether the "multi-INT TPED" is being given adequate priority. The Commission cautions, however, that actually integrating Imagery- and SIGINT-TPED is a bigger, more costly, more demanding job than the sum of the two respective pieces done separately. Staffing such an enterprise in a traditional government way seems, to the Commission, to be a nearly insuperable hurdle.

The Commission offers a number of recommendations of which the most global and far-reaching are summarized here. Where possible the recommendations suggest that specific actions, with specific outcomes and set time frames, be assigned to particular officials.

The Commission recommends that the DCI and SECDEF, with such help from Congress as may be required, ensure that the Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (D/NIMA) serve a term of not less than five years, absent cause for dismissal, and subject to the personal needs of the individual. In the event that an active duty military officer serves as Director, the cognizant military service must commit to this length of tour and Congress should ameliorate any unique hardship that this entails upon the military service.

The Commission recommends creation in NIMA of an Extraordinary Program Office (EPO) armed with special authorities of the Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense, augmented by Congress and staffed--free of staff ceilings and pay caps--through an heroic partnership between industry, NIMA, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The EPO, to be constituted from the best national talent, shall be charged with, and resourced for all pre-acquisition activities, systems engineering and architecture, and acquisition of TPED--from end-to-end, from "national" to "tactical." The first milestone shall be completion of a comprehensive, understandable, modern-day "architecture" for TPED. Other provisions of law notwithstanding, the Congress shall empower the Director of the EPO to commingle any and all funds duly authorized and appropriated for the purpose of the "TPED enterprise," as defined jointly by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence.

With some trepidation--anxious not to delay further NIMA's TPED program--the Commission suggests concomitant study of the evolving TPED strategies on the part of commercial imagery vendors and value-added GIS providers. While the timing may not be right, the opportunity to converge on what may become the commercial mainstream should not be overlooked.

The Director of NIMA--with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the managements of Intelink and OSIS--shall ensure promptly that commercial imagery and value-added suppliers are able to pursue an "e-business" model for their products. Budget submissions for the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP) and Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities (TIARA) budget submissions should realistically reflect needed resources for an aggressive program of "open source" imagery acquisition, which shall be sufficiently robust, stable, and predictable as to encourage US commercial interests. The Secretary of Defense should establish a central source of funds against which components can charge commercial imagery purchases.

The Commission recommends that the DCI and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, and Communications (ASD[C3I]) request, and the Congress approve, a substantial increase in research and development by and on behalf of NIMA--in aggregate, an amount more in keeping with the proportionality of cutting-edge industries in the information business. And, to take advantage of this sponsored research, as well as to reap the benefits of the commercial information technology revolution--which fortunately shows no signs of abating--the Director of NIMA shall implement a vigorous technology insertion process. Receptivity to technology insertion should be reinforced in the NIMA workforce and become an incentivized Key Performance Parameter (KPP) of all USIGS system acquisitions; test-beds and Advanced (Concept) Technology Demonstrations (ATD/ACTD) should be used more widely. Consideration should be given to naming a Chief Technology Officer.

Finally, and more broadly, the Commission suggests that serious, far-reaching review is required of evolving US military doctrine and its dependence on an ever-expanding definition of information superiority, so as to determine the contingent liabilities placed on intelligence. These and these alone must define the needed level of investment in intelligence resources by the military services. Anything less is reckless and irresponsible. We cannot simply design intelligence capabilities to cost; we must design-to-cost the overall strategy which consumes intelligence.

Findings of the Commission

NIMA is an essential component of US national security and a key to information dominance. Despite some shortcomings it is a vital, if under-appreciated, organization staffed with talented individuals and led by dedicated officers.

Despite its acknowledged criticality to information dominance, NIMA is under-resourced overall, not only for TPED acquisition (USIGS modernization), but also for commercial imagery procurement, R&D, and training for its officers and for the larger imagery and geospatial community.

NIMA works hard at understanding its customers and, by and large, is quite successful at it. In the field, NIMA receives praise up and down the line. Washington-area customers, too, compliment NIMA but evince concerns about the future insofar as today's relatively happy state of affairs is based on personal relationships and long-term expertise; the concern is that as the present cohort retires the situation could deteriorate.

The tension between the "strategic" (long-term) challenges and the "operational" (short-term) challenges is a larger national security community problem. It most definitely is not the fault of NIMA, despite perceptions of some all-source analysts and their managers that NIMA tilts toward operational military needs at their expense. In fact, the tension itself is more properly characterized as one of balancing long term and short-term intelligence support to a wide range of customers.

D/NIMA appreciates the need to bolster long-term imagery analysis and plans to transfer 300 NIMA positions (60 per year, 2001-2005) from cartography to imagery analysis, all of whom would remain in the Washington, DC, area to support Washington customers and rebuild NIMA's long-term analysis capability.

Having DCI versus the SECDEF as the ultimate tasking authority, in the absence of major hostilities, still makes sense; it continues to ensure that the delicate balance between military and diplomatic intelligence needs is maintained in the face of everyday contentions for national imagery collection resources. The principles of DCI tasking authority, and provision for its transfer to the Secretary of Defense in time of war, have served the nation well. The DCI is purposefully positioned to appreciate national, military, and civil claims against a scarce imagery resource and to adjudicate otherwise irreconcilable contentions as may arise among the constituencies. His role here is not accidental, but by design.

The relatively new positions of Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production, and for Collection (ADCI/AP and ADCI/C) could benefit NIMA considerably by prioritizing the information needs of the national consumers and the reflection of those needs on the collection disciplines, especially imagery. They chair Intelligence Community fora for achieving consensus, the National Intelligence Production Board (NIPB), and the National Intelligence Collection Board (NICB), respectively.

"TPED" 1 is critical for sustaining US information dominance, but there are doubts that the design for TPED is adequately articulated or understood; that the incorporation of new thinking is pursued aggressively yet balanced with sound management of technical risk; that users' future needs are well understood and provided for; or that the TPED design accelerates the integration of imagery and geospatial concepts--the promise, after all, of creating NIMA.

Continuing to organize its business model around legacy products and processes puts NIMA at risk in the FIA era, shortchanges the needs and priorities of users, and fails to facilitate convergence of imagery analysis and geospatial production.

Multi-INT TPED is vital to retaining US information dominance, but progress on converging even IMINT and SIGINT is halting at best. The recent announcement about cooperation on shared requirements databases is a step in the right direction. Against all odds, there is compelling evidence that NIMA should be in the forefront of this convergence because it owns the geospatial construct.

There is a justifiable lack of confidence in NIMA's current ability to successfully accomplish its acquisition of TPED (by whatever name)--reminiscent of the lack of systems engineering and acquisition capabilities of its forebears. The current TPED (or, USIGS modernization) acquisition effort lacks a clear baseline, which should tie closely to overall strategy, requirements, and cost constraints. Heroic measures will be required to remedy the problems. D/NIMA could well benefit from an advisory panel to help, in the first instance, with TPED acquisition.

There is accumulating evidence that the likely cost of TPED (or USIGS modernization) is not accurately reflected--i.e., is significantly underestimated--in the current POM/IPOM. Supporters and detractors alike recognize that the NIMA infrastructure is not up to the present mission, much less the future, and that the full value of FIA cannot be realized unless major improvements are made.

The lines of responsibility between TPED and communications systems, both terrestrial and space, have been blurred. The dialogue so far among NIMA, DISA, NRO, and the user community engenders no confidence that the links will be there when needed. The CINCs and Services conveniently profess not to know where TPED ends.

D/NIMA's position is very difficult--he tries to serve two masters, tries to harness two cultures, is under-resourced, driven by technology, and he is forced to run the organization at the tactical as well as strategic level because of uneven management strength in some of his direct reports. The middle management corps is the key to NIMA success in merging cultures, in modernizing, and in outsourcing.

The current tour length of the Director of NIMA, two to three years, is too short to solidify accomplishments, institutionalize solutions, and sustain the momentum for needed change; it allows the Director's intent to be frustrated by recidivists who wait out the change in leadership.

The FIA requirements process expressed considerable demand for commercial imagery, and there is considerable additional latent demand in the field, both of which are seriously attenuated by the fact that national technical means (NTM) appears to be a free good, while buying commercial imagery means trading off against beans and boots and bullets. NIMA's commercial imagery strategy is lackluster and the larger US strategy to commercialize remote sensing is as yet unrealized due largely to the Intelligence Community's and DOD's reticence.

While the US has not been aggressive enough in approving commercial imagery licenses, the National Security Council (NSC) is to be applauded on its recent decision to approve a 0.5-meter commercial imagery license.

There is evidence of cultural and bureaucratic impediments to outsourcing NIMA products, but there are some in NIMA intent on getting the in-house/outsourced balance correct. Lacking, however, is a well-thought-out overall strategy for what might be called "transformational" outsourcing vice using contractors as a "body shop" supplement to a government workforce.

Not yet taking maximum advantage of commercial hardware and software, NIMA appears to depend heavily upon existing processes and products and persists in developing government standards that diverge from emerging commercial standards. Nor is NIMA properly positioned to make good use of an e-business model, which would allow for online order taking and order fulfillment, peer-to-peer and business-to-business transactions, and "point-of-sale" financial transactions.

The documented decline in experience and expertise in its imagery analyst corps jeopardizes NIMA's ability to support its customers. Not limited to NIMA, the downturn in analytical expertise is due to both loss of experienced people and the fewer number of years of experience held by the new hires.

SES/SIS positions in NIMA hover around 1 percent; this is puny, even in comparison to the USG average of 2.5 percent and quite a bit lower than sister intelligence agencies.

Inheriting no R&D legacy from its predecessor organizations, NIMA, today, has too little R&D investment and no overall strategy; it could benefit from a Chief Technology Officer. NIMA is not well positioned for rapid and continual technology insertion and does not make use of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD).

When NIMA does choose to rely on contractors, its acquisition and contracting practices come in for heavy criticism even from successful bidders. If NIMA is to take full advantage of commercial offerings, it must be seen as a steadfast partner.

The sooner NIMA forsakes legacy products in favor of data sets from which the products--legacy and new--can be constructed by consumers downstream, the better.

D/NIMA does not fully assert his role as functional imagery manager, has too little say over end-to-end architecture (including the "last tactical mile"), and too little leverage over all intelligence and defense imagery-related investment.


1 Here we mean to include both imagery and geospatial "TPEDs". When necessary, the term "imagery TPED" is used. Generally, TPED and USIGS can be relatively interchangeable. The reader is referred to the discussion of what TPED is and what USIGS is.

Foreword | Executive Summary and Key Judgments | Introduction | NIMA from the Beginning
NIMA in Context | Two-and-a-Half Roles for NIMA | The Promise of NIMA
NIMA and Its Stakeholders | NIMA and Its "Customers" | Is There a "National vs Tactical" Problem?
NIMA and Its Peers and Partners | NIMA and Its Suppliers | NIMA Management Challenges
NIMA's Information Systems | NIMA Research and Development
NIMA and Its Information Architecture | Recommendations | Appendix A
Appendix B | Glossary of Terms

Table of Contents | Home | PDF



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