Tucked into a single room on an air base in the Middle East sit rows of computer servers and data storage equipment providing combatant commands and warfighters with rapid access to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s catalog of imagery and information.
That OCONUS Data Center offers NGA’s most current geospatial intelligence and services for the daily, tactical and strategic missions of the U.S. Central Command and other combatant commands.
By pre-positioning and updating imagery and data in the Southwest Asian theater of operations, NGA helps partners to more securely and quickly get information in the formats they need. Whether they are finding helicopter landing zones, conducting surveillance, locating targets, assessing damage or something else, users count on web-based access to the ODC to help them get the job done.
Combating ‘tyranny’ of distance and time
“The importance of ODC can’t be overstated,’’ said Joseph A. Smith, deputy director of the NGA Office of the Chief Information Officer and Information Technology Services' Warfighter Support Office.
The center provides network access, stability and speed for warfighters and analysts in need of imagery and other data to view or download by overcoming “the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of time’’ required if they must connect back to the United States , Smith said.
“Sometimes, if you have to wait 30 minutes or an hour to get the information, then you can’t do the mission,’’ he said.
Rick Cowans, South Eastern Regional Manager and Technical Executive on the NGA Support Team at CENTCOM , and his team keep watch on the data center 24/7 from CENTCOM’s main headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. In addition, field representatives are on-site with CENTCOM personnel in the Middle East and travel through the Southwest Asia region.
“Analysts in theater can go to the OCONUS Data Center and get the same catalog you can get at [NGA Campus East or West,]’’ Cowans said.
Among the data center’s GEOINT offerings:
— GXP Xplorer: a web-based application used to spatially and temporally discover, stream and retrieve imagery, foundation and vector data. It catalogs maps, satellite images, airborne tactical images, charts, vectors, terrain, features of interest, PowerPoint presentations and text documents.
— iSpy: a web-based, image-viewing application that provides tools for imagery analysis and exploitation. It was added in June.
— Map of the World: NGA’s online geospatial environment that provides shared and trusted GEOINT-related and multi-source content.
— HiPER LOOK: a data-access solution used to catalog, organize and share large volumes of non-conventional geospatial data and imagery into web-compliant services. It also was added in June.
— GVS: GEOINT Visualization Services’ mission is to provide visualization services that facilitate access to GEOINT data and products in an online, on-demand environment. It is commonly used for base map utilization in various GIS tools such as ArcMap and GoogleEarth.
The ODC’s services also are buoyed by a variety of valuable content uploaded from warfighters and others in the region for use by those in-theater and by analysts back in the United States.
“Most NGA people think about data from satellites and maybe some airborne assets, but there are even more sensors near ground or on ground than there are in space,’’ Smith said.
Another benefit of the data center is as a backup to facilities in the United States and elsewhere to assure continuity of operations in an emergency.
ODC’s historical and future role
The origins of the OCONUS Data Center date to 2011, when NGA set up the Southwest Asian Strategic Node for CENTCOM’s area of responsibility in the Middle East. The data center moved into better-protected facilities in late 2016 and was renamed the OCONUS Data Center.
With its forward –placed positioning, regional approach and uniform user experience, the ODC was ahead of its time, Smith said. He said he believes the ODC will continue to play a key role in NGA’s future as the agency moves more of its services to the cloud.
“When you talk about a hybrid cloud strategy, nodes like ODC are a critical part of extending that cloud fabric in all domains,’’ Smith said.
NGA is currently in the process of upgrading equipment for ODC that should further increase analytic capabilities in theater.