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Beyond Pixels: How NGA is Integrating Commercial Analytic Services into Agency Workflows

NGA’s Economic Indicator Monitoring contract may not be one of the agency’s best-known or biggest contracts.

But its innovative approach and initial achievements are drawing attention both inside and outside the agency since the contract was awarded 17 months ago.

Why? The Economic Indicator Monitoring contract, known as EIM, is a model for NGA’s integration of commercial solutions into agency processes to further national security capabilities and mission.

It also is providing a preview of how the agency and the entire GEOINT enterprise might better harness the power of commercial GEOINT, which includes cutting-edge support stretching well beyond imagery.

“EIM demonstrates how we can strengthen our national security and global partnerships when we harmonize our government capabilities with those of the commercial sector,” said Shelby Pierson, deputy director of NGA’s Source Management and Operations component.

“This type of holistic approach, which was jointly developed by Source and Analysis, uses the full spectrum of tools and diverse sources available to us as a GEOINT community … helping ensure we get the right data to the right users at the right time,’’ Pierson said.

Expanding Collection and Analytical Reach

Through EIM, NGA expands its collection and analytical reach through more than just commercial pixels — with commercial vendors delivering detections of objects like aircraft, ships and vehicles as well as collection and data analytics.

For example, the commercial solutions provided through EIM monitor activity across the globe to provide diverse insights into economic impact, trade trends and military capabilities of adversaries.

Often using advanced and automated capabilities such as computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning, these commercial detection and analytics services provide GEOINT analysts with situational awareness, and can be used to improve responsiveness to our mission partners.

“Analysts get direct access to the information that matters,’’ explained Jared Newton, technical executive of NGA’s Commercial Operations Group. Awarded as a multi-year operational contract to several vendors in August 2021, EIM allows NGA to quickly compete each specific delivery order as needed for any particular mission request or geographic area of interest.

Depending on the mission need, this could mean observations of aircraft, vehicles or shipping containers. Or, it could be data on the status of infrastructure such as roads, rails and bridges or facilities such as ports, harbors, airfields and power plants.

“The key to our acquisition approach is to be flexible and fast,’’ Newton said.

Advanced Capabilities at Core of Analytics

Private-sector companies have provided NGA with a variety of electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar imagery, algorithms, computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities in their services.

The collaboration between the agency and industry within EIM can extend beyond economic assessments, explained Alberto Valverde, tradecraft lead of NGA’s Commercial Data and Analytic Solutions team.

“EIM is providing a whole range of capabilities for our analysts and our NSG (National System for Geospatial Intelligence) customers,’’ he said. One of the more recent EIM projects awarded in September supports NGA’s analytic operations analysts and uses commercial compute capabilities to provide automated identification and assessment of damage to buildings and infrastructure from a natural disaster or conflict.

Using a commercial analysis makes the information more shareable to other parties and allows GEOINT analysts to spend time on other tasks, Valverde said. 
Some of the other EIM projects awarded include:

  • Using computer vision to monitor key locations worldwide, delivering detections of activity and providing analysts with insight into military and civilian developments tailored to their needs.
  • Identifying large-scale construction projects indicative of new economic or military activity.
  • Acquiring geospatial data at regional and local levels to better understand demographic changes for further analysis.

More Projects to Come

NGA awarded the original $29 million, 5-year EIM contract to five vendors: Axim Geospatial LLC, BAE Systems, Ball Aerospace, BlackSky Geospatial Solutions Inc. and Royce Geospatial Consultants Inc.

So far, nine delivery orders have been competed under the overall contract, said Caitlin Kim, EIM program manager. “These are things we could do in-house, but we have layered in a strategy to source these things commercially,’’ Kim said. “We had not put together something of this scale before.’’ 

The EIM contract was specifically praised by industry executives as a model for the future of commercial acquisitions during a September meeting between members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, NGA representatives and industry partners.

Citing congressional increases for commercial GEOINT in the FY23 budget and EIM program support needs, NGA announced Nov. 15 the doubling of the contract’s ceiling to $60 million.

Under EIM, the agency plans to continue the acquisition of unclassified commercial GEOINT using artificial intelligence/machine learning models, non-traditional GEOINT sources, computer vision detections and analytical methods. “I couldn’t be more excited about how successful EIM has been so far and look forward to seeing where the lessons learned will lead us in the future,’’ Pierson said.


Written by Adam Goodman


Disclaimer: The mention of the contracted non-federal entities is provided for informational purposes and does not imply further consideration nor endorsement by NGA.