Vice Admiral Robert Sharp, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), today discussed efforts by the Chinese government to increase its geospatial intelligence capabilities, and the pressing need for the United States to stay ahead of adversaries in that arena.

Speaking at the Esri Federal GIS Conference, Sharp commented during a question and answer presentation on current “great power” global competition between the United States and China, and likened the intensity of the current situation to Cold War-era competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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“What weighs on me most is that we are involved in this competition” with China to expand intelligence capabilities, the admiral said. “They are investing … and tying to be better at geospatial intelligence” than the United States, and “we can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

“We are at an important inflection point” in the global security environment brought on not only by great-power competition, but also by greater availability of technology to more players. Greater access to technology “is making a more level playing field” among competitors, which he said then puts a higher premium on nations’ abilities to analyze the data that they do collect.

Asked how to improve the U.S. edge in intelligence gathering, Sharp offered several means including taking steps to evolve IT infrastructure, evaluate new technology, maintain a commitment to core values including “how we get a better tomorrow,” and “make sure you invest in your people.”

The admiral spoke at length about workforce development efforts at NGA, saying the agency is “very deliberate about bringing in talent, giving them “meaningful work,” and then “making sure they have the information technology to do what they need to do.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.