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USGIF-NGA SmallSat Workshop
 

Remarks as prepared for Robert Cardillo, director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

11/16/2015
 
Thanks Keith [Masback, USGIF], not only for that introduction, but for co-hosting this ground-breaking workshop with NGA.
 
Welcome, everyone, to the SmallSat Workshop. Let me start in a slightly unusual way, and take a bit of a risk. I think this conference is misnamed. What I mean is if we spend two days talking about SmallSats, we’ll have wasted our time and yours. It’s bigger than that. So thank you in advance for what you’ve done, but more importantly, what you will do.
 
As I kick off this critical engagement, I challenge you to challenge yourself to commit to actions as a result of this conference. Whether that action comes from the stage, or from a coffee break, or your internal conversation, commit to that action and its follow-through.
 
I hope it’s obvious by us co-sponsoring this conference, and by holding it here, but let me emphasize this point. We’re very serious and excited about using these new opportunities, both those developed commercially, and those being developed by the government. These are real, capable systems that are effective instruments in our tool box. In fact, we are the beneficiary of new sources and methods that weren’t even thought possible before.
 
So three weeks ago, as a key part of our intent to succeed in the open, we published our first ever Commercial GEOINT Strategy, and it begins the public phase of our drive to better leverage open content.
 
That strategy wasn’t just for NGA, by the way. It was to fulfill needs identified for the National System for Geospatial Intelligence and the Allied System for GEOINT, too. So, I speak to you as the director of NGA and also as the U.S. GEOINT Functional Manager.
 
The bottom line is that we will no longer simply admire the potential of these emerging opportunities and other rapid GEOINT advancements. It’s time to harness that potential. We will not wait on the sidelines. We’re ready to become invested in your technologies and capabilities.
 
The evolution of once classified technology into commercial capability has energized industry and our profession. It’s created opportunities for historic partnerships.
 
Now before I move on, let me be absolutely clear that these opportunities ahead of us are going to add to what we receive from our current commercial and government imagery programs. To be clear, my historic mission partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office will continue to be our foundation of exquisite value to our customers.
 
And our myriad commercial partners that provide imagery and foundation material have a place in our current and future operations. To be more specific, we have an outstanding strategic relationship with DigitalGlobe, and we intend to continue on with our dedicated partner. It’s been well proven that our commercial partners can be, and often are, indispensable to the mission; and they continue to be technical pioneers and patriots of the highest order.
 
I’d also like to thank USGIF for that terrific cover story in Trajectory magazine titled “Dark Skies, Bright Future.” Many people, myself included, have referred to this revolution as the “darkening of the skies.” I’m shying away from that phrase, because in retrospect, it sounds ominous. In fact, I’m told there are even two recent science fiction movies called “Dark Skies” and “Darkening Sky,” and there’s a similar TV series called “Dark Skies.” But what we’re talking about is not science fiction; it is science fact, and the best kind of science fact.
 
Admittedly, the questions we now have to think about, from the persistence of geospatial data streaming from hundreds of overhead platforms covering the earth multiple times a day, are staggering. And the challenges of taking advantage of all that data are daunting. But they’re a good kind of daunting.
 
The “Who?”, “What?”, and “How?” of all this are critical. Across Team GEOINT, in both the government and commercial sectors, there’s a tremendous amount of discussion about how to do this. Will we buy derivative services instead of raw pixels from providers? Are the new satellite companies also the analytic providers, or will that be other companies, or us, or some combination? I look forward with great anticipation to the advent of new capabilities and partnerships that will challenge our concepts of vertical and horizontal integration, in the business of creating GEOINT and pushing the limits on innovation.
 
This will all take some time and effort to figure out how we make sense of all this data in a timely and productive manner is going to be an epic challenge to the status quo.
 
Fortunately, thanks to some great people at NGA, led by John Charles, we now have a viable Commercial GEOINT Strategy to guide our efforts to integrate this wave of new capabilities. On page 11, you’ll come across a chart that looks something like this. We’ve modified it a bit so it’s easier to see on a screen. And for the sake of ease on your eyes, let me just explain to you a bit about these four lanes, which serve as the implementation framework of the Strategy.
 
The top lane is the “Partner and Understand” lane. We also call this the “Know” Lane.  That’s K-N-O-W, not N-O. In this one, we want to know companies’ technical capabilities, and their business plans.
 
What do they want from us as a customer? Do they want us to be a “strategic partner,” the way we’ve been with previous commercial imagery providers, or are we just another customer?
 
And what do our own customers want, from these emerging capabilities? I know what they want: answers, insights, alerts, opportunities. And they don’t care how we get them, so long as we execute reliable tradecraft and assured access.
 
Lastly, what does our oversight want us to do? After lunch, we’ll hear from a key member of our oversight, Rep. Bridenstine.
 
The desired “outcome” of this lane, over time, through March 2018 or so on that chart, is that we want to develop transparent industry and customer partnerships. We want to make sure that we all understand what we’re all trying to do together, as we move forward.
 
The second lane is “Explore and Experiment.” Let’s get some of these services, these analytic products, and these pixels together, and see what we can do.
 
So this includes efforts like the Pathfinder project. Chris Rasmussen’s team has redefined the meanings of “success in the open” and “new” business engagement. We’re finding it doesn’t have to be long-term and cleared on-site support or contracting. Pathfinder is showing that cleared on-site contracts aren’t required by default, and that partnering in the open is doable.
 
There will also be a series of “Director’s Challenges” during this first six-month phase. We want to get Team GEOINT involved, and see what we can do together, and what possibilities we can create. The focus here is on finding out what the value proposition is. What is actually worth going after? And speaking of “worth”, we will invest by re-aligning funds to jump start this journey.
 
The desired “outcome” of this second lane is that we’ll accelerate a culture of innovation at NGA, and that will help us adopt the right technology, tradecraft and training. I want to also be clear that this implementation framework, these four lanes, are not actually an integrated master schedule with hard and fast timelines. That’s on purpose, because much of the details of the way forward depend on what we learn in the “Know” and “Explore” lanes that are currently being worked in Phase One, this first  six-month period.
 
In some cases, we don’t even know the questions to ask, so we need help to figure that out – to fill in missing gaps. These new sensors can help us with the big picture, with broad area survey, mapping and chain of custody. Their advantage is going to be a sheer strength in numbers that can be used to provide persistence, and to provide a very effective means for tipping and cueing other systems, regionally and globally. We’ll find out if they can be a means to augment and provide a flexible architecture that can help us more easily address unknown challenges in the future.
 
Now the third lane, which my Deputy, Sue Gordon, will talk about tomorrow, is the traditional “Acquire and Deliver” lane. The focus there is to decide where the value proposition is, and then to go get it.
 
The desired “outcome” there is an opportunity to demonstrate our agile and adaptive commercial technology acquisition. Karen Hayes-Ryan and her people have their work cut out for them.
 
And the bottom lane, the toughest by far, is the “Adopt and Institutionalize” lane. Because none of this has any value if we don’t have the architecture, the tradecraft and the culture to support it. We have to change our culture, and get these changes into our wheelhouses, to really be a success. And, to remind, there is no such thing as an NGA success if it doesn’t mean success to our customers.
 
The desired “outcome” for this final lane is that we’ll deliver commercial GEOINT as a core component of NGA mission operations.
 
Right now, I’d like you to do something for me. Since this is a workshop, let’s do a little work.
 
Everyone is familiar with Venn diagrams, and Euler diagrams, although you’ve probably just been calling them Venn, too, but here are a few examples.
 
The first one is a traditional Venn diagram. All the circles overlap to some degree.
 
The second one, which has a little geographic flavor, shows Mexico as the product of a Venn diagram. But the part with South America as a subset of Latin America, is an Euler diagram. You’ll notice that not all of the circles need to touch each other in this one.
 
When you checked in this morning, you were given a workshop “Passport.” Each one has a piece of paper in it for you to create your own Euler diagram. Please take that out, and grab a pen or pencil. If you don’t have one, raise your hand, and we’ll pass you one.
 
I want you to construct your own diagram, twice.
 
Please include the six circles on that sheet, plus any others you think are important, but at least:
•    Classified Data & Analysis
•    Commercial Data & Analysis
•    High Resolution Commercial Satellite Imagery
•    Classified Government Satellite Imagery
•    Social & Public Media
•    and High Revisit Imagery (or SmallSats)
 
I’m going to show you one example of how they might currently relate to each other. This is not necessarily the gospel truth. It’s just one person’s opinion. Not mine. For example, hi-res commercial overlaps today with government.
 
What I’d like to see from each of you are two diagrams. You can change the sizes of each circle, and how they interact and overlap. Your first diagram is how you think GEOINT today actually looks.  It’s probably not exactly the same as what you see up here. The second is how you think these six circles should look five to ten years from now. In other words, how would they best work together in the near future, to maximize consequence for our customers?
 
When you finish, I’d like you to pass your papers to the center aisles. You can put your name and contact info on them, or you can be anonymous. If you’d like to say something about your diagrams – this is intended to be very interactive – then please put your name on it. I’m looking for some imagination here. There are no wrong answers.
 
Feel free to embellish your circles with other things, if you’d like, and you haven’t run out of time. You might have heard the analogy about using a Porsche to haul firewood, alluding to the all-purpose way that GEOINT capability is currently tasked. But I’m primarily interested in how you view the relationship of those six areas, and how big the circles would be compared to each other.
 
The members of our Commercial GEOINT Accelerator Team – please stand – will review these as I talk a little more, and they’ll select some for us to look at, at the beginning of the Q&A period. They’ll scan them, and put them up on the screen. And for the ones selected, I’ll ask the authors to come up to the microphones to provide insights about them that you think are important about them. It’s a chance for you to make your case as to why you’re right, both for the present situation, and then for how you’d maximize consequence five to ten years from now.
 
All right, you have about three minutes – one minute for your present diagram, and two minutes for your future one. I’ll get a glass of water, and be right back.
 
Again, you can be anonymous if you’d like, but if you have something that you’re willing to share with us, there’s no penalty at all for taking a risk. And I’m sure there are some fresh, different, and thought-provoking views about this. Time’s up. Please pass your papers toward the aisle.
 
Here’s an example of what I think I was looking for; and I’ll show this again when we’re ready to workshop these in a few minutes. You’ll note the two classified circles on the left increased in size a little, but the commercial circles on the right increased a lot. And the biggest change is what used to be the tiny SmallSats circle. They also overlap where they didn’t before. We’ll repost this at the end, as we bring up different opinions from the crowd.
 
Of course, my prediction is that, both in these diagrams and in real life, we’ll see that SmallSats and Commercial GEOINT will prove to be catalysts for NGA transformation.
 
They’re a chance to further tilt NGA’s axis toward unclassified operations, and that’s important, because we truly have to succeed in the open. This change is also likely to generate a grass roots demand for emerging capabilities from a much leaner startup approach.
 
All the key initiatives we want to make happen: GEOINT Services, Pathfinder, the GEOINT Solutions Marketplace, acquisition process re-engineering, crowdsourcing? They’re all going to be driven to success by this new playground. So we’ll fill a big, widely inclusive sandbox with the toys that will make everyone want to come and play, and that will then help us grow our value proposition. Which means can ride the wave of opportunity together.
 
And I use those words: “playground,” “sandbox” and “toys” not disrespectfully or disparagingly in any way. Please understand that I very much admire the professionalism of everyone connected to this field. I’m not saying this is all fun and games. I use those words because SmallSats have brought a sense of wonderment, of excitement, to this profession.
 
And they’ve brought an ability to innovate rapidly, which should provide NGA new ways to deliver consequence to our customers. We can build on the pixels to the possibilities created by automated change detection and big data analytics.
 
Next month, I go to Capitol Hill for a closed session, to brief the Senate Select Intelligence Committee about our Commercial GEOINT Strategy. Some of this I need to look at with my functional manager hat on. We can’t afford to just worry about this in isolation as an agency, so I need to be able to guide and synchronize these things for Team GEOINT as a whole.
 
When it comes to analytic products for our customers, we’ll also be evaluators. Some will probably need little to no additional service by us, as long as we make it clear they’re fit for specifically intended purposes, so if the customer uses them for unintended purposes, there may be some risks.
 
With many other services, we’ll still need to add exquisite value, to create a new service. We’ll take the trend analysis, and add our own unique data, the experience, the context that only NGA can provide; then share it with the customer.
 
Here’s what I know: This is not optional. Not too long ago, we, the government, defined the future via documents such as Statements of Capabilities, or SOCs. Today we inform that future, and are informed by your advances and your ideas.
 
We have to embrace and leverage open content to ensure the future mission success of NGA. And combining the world of open content, including the explosion of social-mobile data, with the emerging SmallSat operators will provide us with an unparalleled value proposition.
 
For example, we’ll be able to provide decision-makers, warfighters, and first responders the value of integrated, multi-source analysis that’s anticipatory, and gives them decisive advantage. We’ll also fully integrate all those worlds with our traditional classified operations.
 
To succeed tomorrow, we need to really be experts about open content from new and emerging sources, and that content goes far beyond pixels.
 
Achieving the right balance is going to be cultural, too. It’s going to require significant changes and interoperability in technology, training, policy, and hiring. It’s essential. Because not only are commercial sources critical to our mission success, their importance will only increase in the future.
 
Not too long ago, we were the 800-pound gorilla in the GEOINT world, with expertise and access to source material that was unavailable to others. That’s just not the case anymore. But neither are we afraid or paralyzed by what’s been called the “Tsunami of Data.” In fact, we view it as an opportunity. This is the ideal time to get in sync with industry, and succeed out on the open ocean. This is where you should envision the 800-pound gorilla on a huge surfboard, riding high on a tsunami, because that’s how we’re going to be.
 
We’re facing a multifaceted challenge that calls for innovative spirit, curiosity and proactive engagement. Let’s cultivate this movement and widen all our perspectives to push our requirements past the historical focus on pixels and our fixation with resolution. Because it makes so much sense to embrace the services and analytics offered by the commercial remote sensing, and broader open content communities today, and those anticipated tomorrow, all brought to use by the broadening array of commercial satellite constellations.
 
The increased global coverage these sources will provide is going to be a key enabler for persistent GEOINT. The sheer numbers of commercial satellites and satellite operators will increase the collective resiliency of overhead architectures. It’s just a no-brainer, a win-win situation. And before too long, there’s no doubt in my mind, we’ll become as adept at using these emerging information sources as we are now with using existing government capabilities.   
 
Now, I’ve focused this morning on quantitative change, but I hope we’re all keeping open minds about qualitative change, too. We’re generally “all in” when it comes more sensors, more data, better integration, and more analytics. But let’s also think about how we can change the nature of GEOINT, with brand new types and depths of multi-INT integrated capabilities, and a new culture to adopt and exploit for our customers.
 
Before we go to Q&A, and discussion of your Euler Diagrams, let me leave you with one more request for the rest of this workshop, for however long you’re participating.
 
To the government GEOINT professionals in the crowd, the NSG and ASG users, both US and Allied: Please wholeheartedly participate in the breakout sessions, visit the vendors, ask questions, and makes sure you understand the new Commercial GEOINT Strategy as much as possible. Then start thinking about the possibilities. Feed your ideas to the NGA Commercial Accelerator Team.  They can be identified by their lighted lanyards. Be part of this change.
 
And to the vendors and government developers present and at the booths: Tell us what you’re doing and planning. Tell us what’s changing. Give us your insight, on what’s shaping your vision. And please listen to the government participants here. Ask questions to better understand their needs and wants. Engage with them to help them to see the realm of the possible. And also engage with our Industry Advocate, Mike Geggus. Mike, please stand. Mike is the connector; he can channel you exactly where you need to go.
 
Finally, to both Government and Industry folks, how can we make it easier for the commercial market to work with us? What suggestions do you have to improve acquisition, contracting rules, data format and ownership, data flows, or anything else? How can we create more accessible business practices, and lower our barriers to be more inclusive, to better succeed in the open?
 
That’s it for my formal remarks. Let’s workshop a few ideas from the crowd. Can I get a few good examples from the team? And I’d be happy to take some questions when we’ve covered two or three diagrams. Thanks very much.
 
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