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New NGA Tech Strategy Aims At AI Integration « Breaking Defense

NGA Director Vice. Adm. Bob Sharp, at GEOINT 2019

WASHINGTON: The National Geospatial-Information Agency (NGA) is finalizing its first-ever technology strategy, designed to lay out its evolution to a data-centric operation using machine learning and artificial intelligence to speed information to users in the Intelligence Community and the military, NGA officials said today.

The new technology strategy is intimately linked to NGA’s 2020 Technology Focus Areas, released yesterday, said Mark Munsell, chief technology officer, in a videoconference sponsored by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) this afternoon.

NGA’s technology focus areas are “what we’re looking for;” while the upcoming technology strategy outlines “how we’d like to change,” he said.

Munsell added that it is important to understand that the 2020 Technology Focus Areas represent “enduring needs” — not just near-term requirements — and thus both build on past work and will inform future work.

Vice Adm. Bob Sharp, NGA director, released the first version of the Technology Focus Areas at the 2019 USGIF GEOINT symposium last June. At the time, Sharp outlined NGA’s pivot away from understanding what has just happened to being able to better predict what will happen using big data and machine-enabled analytics.

The 2020 Technology Focus Areas document includes five macro-categories, each of which is broken down into more specific needs:

  • Advanced Analytics and Modeling
  • Data Management
  • Modern Software Engineering
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Future of Work

For example, under Data Management, NGA elaborates that it is looking for technological solutions to: transferring “data between multiple security classification domains;” the capability “to automatically identify the source, format, and transmission method of data to assess its potential risk;” and “a scalable way” to provide data assurance.

“NGA has a vision for a data-centric architecture and a distributed work environment that operates on that data, versus what we may have experienced in the past, which would be a workflow-centric architecture, on a single network.” said David Gauthier, the head of NGA’s Commercial and Business Operations Group. For that reason, he said, “data management is a critical enabler.”

“The tech focus areas aren’t ‘shelfware.’ We are identifying opportunities to leverage non-traditional acquisition capabilities to address the needs outlined in this document,” said Christy Monaco, NGA chief ventures officer, in an agency press release today.

To that end, she told the USGIF audience, NGA has provided the list to In-Q-Tel, the IC’s investment arm, to help guide its funding decisions, she said.

In-Q-Tel pumps funds into “commercially-focused, venture capital-backed startups to identify and adapt ‘ready-soon’ technology – off-the-shelf products that can be modified, tested, and delivered for use within 6 to 36 months,” according to its website.

NGA also intends to shortly issue Broad Area Announcements (BAAs) asking vendors to submit their innovative capabilities for consideration for future rapid prototyping, she said.

In addition, the 2020 focus areas will be used in NGA evaluations of which companies currently under Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contracts — via the agency’s partnership with the Air Force’s SBIR Open Topics solicitation — should get Phase II contracts, she said.

The SBIR Open Topics, a new acquisition tool for rapidly moving promising tech to prototypes, is managed by the Air Force’s AFWERX innovation hub. The most recent Open Topics call was issued in December, with applications closing on Feb. 13. Among the topics included in call relevant to NGA are: artificial intelligence with a focus on data quality, and technologies to improve human-machine interactions in autonomous systems.

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