NRO: Same mission, different strategy

The National Reconnaissance Office's transformation is taking that agency in a different direction, the agency's chief technology officer said recently .

The NRO's transformation places less emphasis on the collection of satellite data and focuses instead on developing ground capabilities to process, fuse, and analyze that data, Michele Weslander Quaid, NRO’s CTO, told a gathering of intelligence and industry officials in Herndon, Va., May 22.

The NRO is an intelligence agency that develops and operates spy satellites on behalf of the Department of Defense and other intelligence components.

“Our mission remains the same, but our focus and the way we execute it will change significantly,” said Quaid. “Ground capabilities will have equal priority with collection. Our primary deliverable will become value added information.”

The NRO transformation encompasses organizational and technological aspects. The agency plans to develop a single integrated enterprise architecture that will discard a structure characterized by separate organizations that specialize in areas such image intelligence or signal intelligence.

“There was some grass-roots collaboration among these groups,” said Quaid, “but we were missing opportunities for synergy. Now we are all on one team.”

At the technology level, transformation will mean acquiring plug-and-play common platforms instead of sensor specific platforms. It also means making greater investments in technologies that help process and fuse data, and not merely collect it.

“We need to get to a common environment to bring down the data, process it, and get it where it needs to be,” Quaid said. “We are developing new ways to support the intelligence user.”

Inaugurating an integrated enterprise architecture and its supporting technologies is five years away, she said.

The NRO is searching for and implementing off-the-shelf products that facilitate better collaboration and information sharing in the agency, among its community of users, and, ultimately, with non-U.S. coalition partners.

One tool being used is a blog where analysts and users can communicate about intelligence community needs and how to meet them. The ultimate goal of this and other social networking tools is to anticipate the needs of the intelligence user community.

“We don’t want to wait until they write a requirement,” Quaid said. “We need to be proactive to enable the discovery and access to information.”

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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