Enable breadcrumbs token at /includes/pageheader.html.twig

U.S. GEOINT Is Clear Driver in Ukrainian Defense

Geospatial imagery and solutions shared in urgent fashion help the nation against Russia’s invasion.
Space Electric Rocket Test Sert II Satellite image courtesy of NASA

Space Electric Rocket Test Sert II Satellite image courtesy of NASA

An unprecedented amount of U.S. commercial space-based intelligence for national security has helped the country of Ukraine defend itself for the last six months against the unprovoked invasion of Russia. The speed at which digital imagery and services came into the hands of Ukrainian warfighters was also outstanding, officials say, demonstrating the value of commercial geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, during armed conflicts.

Several companies pivoted in rapid fashion to provide current or new solutions or services, and the government’s ability to quickly bring in the solutions via various contracting methods helped as well, leaders said, speaking on a panel at AFCEA and INSA’s Intelligence and National Security Summit 22.

In terms of geospatial imagery and capabilities, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has crossed frontiers not necessarily seen before, given the growing contribution from the commercial sector, which is seemingly here to stay, said Sandra Erwin, senior reporter, SpaceNews Inc., moderating the panel.

“From the very beginning of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders, and all of the combat operations that have followed, this has been a story of commercial space,” Erwin said. “This is the first time that we have widely seen information that previously was only available from government sources. And this industry is growing very fast.”

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in particular, mobilized with other members of the intelligence community to rapidly increase purchases of commercial imagery, reported David Gauthier, director, Commercial and Business Operations Group in the NGA’s Source Directorate.

“I think we are all witnessing how commercial capabilities are changing our perspectives of the world around us and increasing our ability to deliver decision advantage,” Gauthier said. “The war in Ukraine perfectly captures the innovative use of commercial technologies for profound mission effect.”

The NGA leveraged the commercial imagery to reveal the truth to the public about what was going on with Russia and then started using analytic insights from commercial companies to gain information advantage and help U.S. allies and partners, he noted.

“With the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office], we immediately doubled the amount of commercial imagery that we purchased for Ukraine,” Gauthier said. “And with the NRO, we rapidly integrated a new type of imagery, which is commercial SAR [synthetic aperture radar], about a year earlier than expected, into our operations.”

This step of integrating synthetic aperture radar imagery is significant, he confirmed, adding that it was delivered “almost overnight” directly to “forward users in Ukraine.”  

Image
space panel at intelligence summit
Panelists at the Intelligence and National Security Summit discuss space and the intelligence community. Credit: Herman Farrer

The NGA also increased its purchase levels of commercial imagery services—for Ukrainian activities but also for other U.S. operations around the world. “And those commercial services gave us insights into patterns of life at airfields and other places,” Gauthier said.

The NGA was able to make the quick shift to more commercial solutions given the steps it had already taken to change its business processes. It took significant preparation, including continuous market research on the commercial GEOINT industry, “so that we could be poised for rapid action,” he added. Moreover, NGA flexible contract awards for new services that include an evaluation period have been especially helpful to the Ukrainian crisis. “Those contracts were designed to scale up into operational purchases right from the beginning,” Gauthier offered.

The NGA’s web-based delivery system, Global Enhanced GEOINT Delivery, which sends imagery to disadvantaged users around the world, was “instantly available to the forces in Ukraine.”

The quick ability to leverage commercial solutions for Ukraine demonstrates the value that the private sector brings to military, noted James Doggett, vice president, Mission Assurance, HawkEye 360, and Tony Frazier, executive vice president and general manager, Public Sector Earth Intelligence, Maxar Technologies. The companies were able to show not only the increased capabilities but also a higher quality of data.

“Like a lot of us in industry, we were able to see a quick response to the initial crises through a reprogramming effort, really across the board in the company, and not just the operations or the analysis shop using existing capability, but even across our engineering and development organizations, we were able to really surge on some efforts to get new capability out into the hands of [Ukrainian] users,” Doggett observed.  

Like a lot of us in industry, we were able to see a quick response to the initial crises through a reprogramming effort, really across the board in the company, and not just the operations or the analysis shop using existing capability, but even across our engineering and development organizations, we were able to really surge on some efforts to get new capability out into the hands of [Ukrainian] users.  
James Doggett
Vice President, Mission Assurance, HawkEye 360

“The Ukrainian conflict became an accelerant for how we would leverage space to support missions that people traditionally thought we were limited in actual systems,” Frazier explained.

The private sector—in HawkEye 360’s view—brings to the military flexible, software-defined architecture—"not just bits of a software-defined kit but an actual whole approach to how we do development”—and an agile workforce, Doggett said.

The solicitation practices of the NGA and other agencies also played a key factor for the companies, the executives stressed. “Having contract vehicles in place to support solutions from demonstration to prototype to production has put systems into the hands of Ukraine end users quickly,” Frazier said. “We've seen a tremendous increase in adoption.”