NIMA charts new course

The Defense Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency plans to pump

at least $850 million into private industry under a massive outsourcing

initiative, according to the agency's top officer.

NIMA director Army Lt. Gen. James King said the agency has outlined

for Congress a $1 billion plan for developing digital mapping and imagery

products that will help military planners "see" potential battlefields from

a more realistic, 3-D perspective. And the agency believes that as much

as 85 percent of that work can be turned over to the commercial sector.

The move is part of a fundamental change in the way NIMA does business,

according to King. He spoke last week at the Second Annual Symposium on

Information Assurance and Battlefield Visualization, sponsored by the Association

of the U.S. Army and Association of Old Crows. "NIMA wants to be an information

provider," King said. "It's more than just a map. [It's] being able to digitize

the Earth — natural and man-made features."

NIMA grew out of the merger between the Defense Mapping Agency, the

Central Imagery Office, the National Photographic Interpretation Center

and imagery support offices within the CIA, the Defense Information Agency

and the National Reconnaissance Office.

Since its inception in 1996, NIMA has increased outsourcing by 106 percent,

King said. Most of the upcoming outsourcing will deal with production of

the agency's Digital Terrain Elevation Data modeling products, King said.

DTED is a uniform data standard used in the production of maps and imagery.

Part of that work also will include building a prototype next year of

a Dynamic Holographic Display table that will present a realistic, 3-D world

to military planners, King said. The system will include what is known as

a "roving knowbot" that will feed information on the battlefield to a large

projection screen.

NIMA most recently produced a 3-D "fly through" of Albania for mission

rehearsal and planning prior to the military being deployed to Kosovo. For

the CIA, the agency is developing a prototype that promises to deliver a

fully functional, interactive, virtual urban environment database for mission

planning and rehearsal. "The databases matter," said King. "NIMA is moving

out of hard-copy production."

Despite NIMA's focus on outsourcing, the agency "and its [Pentagon]

masters" have not yet come to grips with the reality of the 21st century,

said Robert Steele, chief executive officer of Open Source Solutions and

a former CIA officer.

"The private sector is vastly superior at wide-area surveillance, at

post-processing [of imagery], and at mapmaking, than the government ever

was or can be," said Steele, who is a major proponent of using commercially

available imagery from Canada, France, Russia and elsewhere. "NIMA persists

in spending on hardware and software from the Stone Age."

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