With the United States involved in a great-power competition, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is being challenged to provide faster and better products and services for the nation to prevail. But meeting the test in this heightened level of competition, according to NGA CIO Mark Andress, demands more than just speed.

In 2020, NGA Director Vice Admiral Robert D. Sharp released an innovation strategy “moonshot” focused on the GEOINT race, and emphasized that a concerted effort is needed to win.  The moonshot challenged NGA’s workforce to embrace continuous and rapid innovation as part of its culture, and to work together to redefine GEOINT workspaces and tradecraft – now and for the future.

“We are clearly in a race; there is no doubt about it. But this level of competition demands more than just speed. There are a few aspects to this race that are significant drivers for our GEOINT community,” Andress said on Jan. 6 during a virtual event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

Andress emphasized the need for a concentrated effort by NGA and the intelligence community as a whole on adversaries, use of the unclassified space, increased utilization of GEOINT data, and leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) capabilities.

For years the U.S. has held a significant lead over its adversaries on the GEOINT world stage. However, according to Andress, adversaries in this competitive arena have become smarter, bolder, more creative, and can leverage many of the same technologies that the U.S. uses – thus shrinking the nation’s technological advantage.

Andress added that the explosion of GEOINT data is another factor in this competition. As the quantity of available data increases, Federal intelligence agencies – and especially NGA – must discover more effective and efficient ways of managing that data. This is where leveraging AI/ML becomes a significant factor in this competition.

“At NGA, we know that we have to become the world’s best in computer vision using [AI/ML] to substitute for what the human eye and mind have been able to do in the past,” Andress said.

He added that the agency also acknowledges tremendous opportunities in the unclassified space that it needs to act upon, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to a hybrid work environment.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.