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Future Imagery Architecture [FIA] To Broad Area Surveillance Intelligence Capacity [BASIC]

The Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) is the NRO's initiative to define, acquire and operate the next generation imagery satellite architecture. Working with NRO's mission partner - NGA - and consumers of intelligence imagery products to implement user requirements, it will integrate into the US Imagery and Geospatial Information System (USIGS). FIA was intended to provide a cost-effective, best value imagery architecture comprised of more capable imagery satellites which are expected to be launched in this decade.

The NRO is developing the Future Imagery Architecture [FIA], which will capitalize on available small satellite technology to address the needs of tomorrow's customers in the most effective way possible, responding to an exhaustive study of customer needs. These systems are intended to be increasingly responsive to operational needs and the military is an integral partner and participant in NRO space missions. As the NRO begins this revolutionary research and development (R&D) program and new acquisition efforts for imagery intelligence, military partners are helping shape the next generation of satellites.

The Future Imagery Architecture [FIA], which builds the space-borne imagery intelligence capability that is meant to operate for the next several decades, will be an incredible improvement over current systems. The satellites promise to deliver many times the data at a much-reduced interval between pictures. It has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States employs military forces. And it can also greatly complicate the lives of terrorists, drug lords, and weapons proliferators who pose national security challenges.

The NRO formally proposed the Future Imagery Architecture Program in its Fiscal Year 1998 budget submission to Congress on 06 March 1997. The FIA program is predicated on the concept that the NRO would specify performance requirements [such as resolution and revisit rates], with the means by which the requirements are met to be specified by the contractor team. Reportedly FIA is intended to collect between eight and twenty times the volume of imagery as current systems. The FIA program, crafted with NIMA, was based on the recommendations of the 1996 Imagery Architecture Study (IAS) team led by Robert Herman, which recommended reducing the size of national intelligence satellites.

FIA Phase A/B

The initial "Phase A" architecture study, which detailed the attributes of a future imagery system desired by NRO customers, concluded in mid-1996 under the sponsorship of the NRO and the Central Imagery Office [subsequently merged into NIMA]. This included the identification of over 20 varying performance levels. The "Phase A" concept demonstrated that a new generation of smaller imagery satellites could be built within budget and with improved capabilities.

The "Phase B" concept definition effort began in May 1996, with the NRO working with six competing contractor teams and NIMA to determine the utility of the various increments of improvement in imagery capabilities. NIMA contributed by listing the 25-30 attributes of an imagery constellation, such as area, resolution, and accuracy of geospatial information. FIA vendors were free to propose a mixed architecture of government systems and commercial systems.

In 1997 work began on reducing the risk of selecting "immature suppliers" for the Future Imagery Architecture program.

"Phase C" involved actually building the satellites and operating them. Some 234 representatives from 56 companies attended a classified NRO briefing on Phase C of FIA in January 1997. NRO realised in March 1998 that proposed industry plans exceeded the FIA budget, with NRO calculating that the procurement would cost about 25% more than the industry-submitted estimates. The NRO delayed Phase C of FIA by about six months to resolve the differences between the NRO and contractor estimates of the projected cost of the planned constellation.

The launch of the next generation of imagery satellites was slipped until 2004 or 2005, a one-year delay from the original 2003 to 2004 launch goal. As of mid-1998 the NRO officials appeared to be favoring an evolutionary system of three or four imagery satellites, rather than a revolutionary architecture of 10 or 12 spacecraft.

FIA, to be carried out over a decade or so, was to be the most expensive program in the history of the intelligence community. In 1997 and 1998 Congress imposed spending caps on the program to make sure its costs would not overwhelm the limited money that is available for other intelligence work. Despite this imposition of those spending caps, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence remained gravely concerned that the program as currently planned had the potential of being the biggest white elephant in US intelligence history, because there was inadequate funding to task the satellites, process the digital data they collect, exploit the information coming from the data, and then disseminate the information to the national policymaker, the analysts, or the military unit that needs the information. The National Reconnaissance Office was a big beneficiary of a $1.5 billion increase in intelligence spending in the fiscal year 1999 budget. However, Congressional conferees placed a cost cap on the the Future Imagery Architecture.

FIA development posed huge system and software engineering challenges. The System Engineering and Software Development posed big risks in the FIA program. Several Million SLOC were in the FIA program, which featured dispersed engineering & development locations, multi-contractor teams using different processes. The result was a combination of legacy re-use, COTS integration and new software development efforts under real cost and schedule constraints.

In early Spring 1999 Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre approved the commercial imagery initiative proposed by NRO Director Keith Hall. The goal of the plan is to satisfy general imagery requirements through commercial vendors, while keeping more advanced imagery systems under government control. In July 1999 the CIA and DOD approved the $1 billion muti-year budget for the initiative, which is part of the Future Imagery Architecture. Half this amount had already been included in the NRO and NIMA budgets for 2001 through 2005.


In September 2005 it was reported that the Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte had decided to take away from Boeing Co. much the multibillion-dollar Future Imagery Architecture contract as a result of cost overruns and delays. Intelligence officials decided to transfer much of the work to rival Lockheed Martin.Under the revised plan, Lockheed would build the electro-optical satellite. Lockheed Martin undertook to build a spacecraft from spare parts from the current generation of secret electro-optical reconnaissance satellites. Boeing would continue developing the less complex imaging radar spacecraft, which was the smaller portion of the program. Boeing remained the prime contractor.

By late 2007 the NRO had embarked on a new multibillion-dollar program to develop the next generation of reconnaissance satellites, following the major restructuring in 2005 of the flawed and costly Future Imagery Architecture system. The new system, known as Broad Area Survelillance Intelligence Capability [BASIC], was to be launched by 2011, and was expected to cost $2 billion to $4 billion, according to a 30 November 2007 report by The Associated Press. A study of what satellite capabilities are feasible was completed at the end of 2007. This covered a range of options, including development of an entirely new imagery satellite, a derivative of a commercial imagery satellite, buying a commercial satellite or leasing existing satellite capacity. The program is expected to be "significantly less ambitious" than FIA. A classified "Request for Information" [RFI] on the new program was issued to industry in the Fall of 2007, with a solicitation for proposals expected in Spring 2008. Finally in the summer of 2008 the DoD decided to purchase one or two commercial imaging satellite in addition to building a new more advanced Block-II version for 2018 more closely meeting its design requirements that are not presently available through commercial imaging satellites in development or under consideration by DoD.

BASIC Program

The post FIA collapse BASIC (Broad Area Satellite Imagery Collection) program is the second program to appear that is a part of an in development commercial based constellation of IMINT spacecraft built to DoD/NRO requirements and specifications for battle hardening optically capabilities and is expected to cost between $2 and $4 billion initially. The government has committed $2.9 billion to the program so far with its first flight scheduled for 2011. Although the DoD has stated there are several options that include developing an entirely new imaging spacecraft, the modification of an existing design spacecraft or the purchase of and or leasing of several commercial spacecraft it can be seriously question. This is because it takes from five to seven years to develop and fly a new spacecraft with only four years to flight schedule. Out right purchase of the existing spacecraft or leasing is only a short term solution to achieve the goal but they will not meet the DoD/NRO specifications. The only viable option is to develop modifications of the existing commercial spacecraft to meet DoD/NRO battle hardening optically capabilities with assistance from NRO and some major IMINT contractor like Lockheed Martin. Because of the much shortened design development time only the commercial companies are expected to meet the design specifications and on schedule on budget requirements. This would tend to reduce the design options down to perhaps two competitors with DoD/NRO requirements and optical modifications. There are perhaps three or more competitors for this program GEOEYE, DigitalGlobe, MicroSat Systems, Lockheed Martin and or Orbital Sciences Corporation. All of this would tend to reduce the competition down to Lockheed Martin that helped develop the commercial satellite and GEOEYE, DigitalGlobe as the potential competitors for the contract proposal expected in the spring of 2008.

The Pentagon and the Intelligence Community keeping their eyes on national security broader-area coverage shutter control issues decided in early September 2008 to purchase one 1.1 meter resolution satellite for launch with a contract proviso for purchase of a second satellite i.e. two new commercial class imaging satellites for the BASIC program. They also decided to increase the volume of commercially purchased imagery at a total $1.7 billion price tag for both directives already being utilized by the community and military operations. The two satellite constellation is to be launched around 2012 or afterwards. Those satellites will probably be built to the NRO added requirements as previously noted since NRO will be the purchasing agency for the government organizations. This was after a long period of bureaucratic discussions over their requirements and the best approach to the multiple national security issue between the US Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Intelligence Director Office (DNI) in addition to the Secretary of Defense’s office (OSD). The decision must now undergo review and approval by the White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before it becomes real. The commercial imagery industry had hoped for purchase of massive amounts of imagery from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) was not forth coming because of the national security’s community desire to maintain shutter control for its many and varied requirements even though those commercial companies are doing similar imagery operations. The decision was not based in creating a competition with the commercial industry but rather to address both White House 2003 presidential directive policy requirements and most importantly national security demands. Both GeoEye of Dulles, Virginia and Digital Globe of Longmont, Colorado are in competition for the commercial imagery request increases but Ball Aerospace and General Dynamics are the two companies in competition for the two new satellites built with the added NRO requirements which are based on successfully operated technology they developed previously with the government request for proposals expected to go out later this year.

Congress in its wisdom cancelled the 2009 and the rest of the 2008 funding for the BASIC program during October 2008 conference decision that had been planned to purchase two commercial based low to medium resolution classified imaging satellites in addition to additional imagery needed by the intelligence commmunity. What will now fill the preceived imaging gap for the intelligence community remains to be defined except for the existing and planned commercial imaging systems.



1. Anne Flaherty & Pamela Hess, Associated Press News, Washington , D.C. , US Plans New Multibillion Dollar Spy Satellites Program, November 30, 2007 , pp. 1, 2.

2. Hess, Pamela, Associated Press News, Washington D.C. , Pentagon is in the market for spy satellites, July 1, 2008 , p.1-4.

3. Pentagon OK’s spy satellite program, Washington , (Associated Press),, Sept 18, 2008 , p. 1-2.

4. Eric Lipton, Administration Trying for Spy Satellite Again, The New York Times, , September 17, 2008 , pp. 1-3.

5. Amy Butler, NRPO Seeks New Commercial Imagery Sats, , , September 18, 2008 p. 1.

6. Pamela Hess, Congress cancels novel satellite program, Associated Press, October 20, 2008 p. 1.

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