The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is in the process of taking over operational control of the Defense’s Department’s (DoD) Project Maven, which the Pentagon formed in 2017 to speed the integration of big data and machine learning (ML) technologies, NGA Director Vice Adm. Robert Sharp explained on April 26 at the GEOINT 2022 Symposium.

Sharp discussed how NGA has been given operational control of Project Maven’s GEOINT AI services and capabilities from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security. That includes responsibility for labeled data, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, test and evaluation capabilities, and the platform, he said.

Leading the DOD GEOINT AI/ML Effort 

Historically, NGA has leveraged AI and applied ML algorithms to enable geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) analysis at scale.

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But as the agency leading DoD’s GEOINT AI and ML efforts, NGA plans to bring together experts across the DoD and industry to deliver GEOINT at the pace that warfighters and decision-makers need, Sharp said.

The DoD launched Project Maven to help analysts navigate the abundance of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance footage that drones were collecting over the Middle East. Maven has since become a blueprint for other DoD AI initiatives.

“This move brings together two major DoD AI and ML efforts under one roof,” Sharp said. DoD and NGA see this as an opportunity to provide strategic leadership and a corporate approach to GEOINT AI investments, he added.

“We’ll be able to lead and coordinate the GEOINT community in the AI programs that have already been started and apply them directly to the mission,” Sharp said. “These programs have been generating detections and producing new GEOINT, making us faster and better in how we do our business.”

“In the not-too-distant future, these efforts will give us our millions of eyes to see the unseen,” the admiral said.

NGA Launches New Tech-Heavy Guidance 

Elsewhere during his keynote address at the GEOINT Symposium, Sharp introduced an updated version of NGA’s “Tech Focus Areas” document.

The updated version starts with a graphic that explains how NGA’s GEOINT approach is evolving: workflows, from human-initiated to machine-initiated; data types and sources, from U.S. government-prioritized to data that comes from different parts of the innovation ecosystem; and high-side data aggregation to using the lowest possible domain.

According to Sharp, these changes will allow NGA to “increase our speed to stay ahead of the growing amount of GEOINT created each and every day, get better outcomes from that increased diversity of data sources, and make our products more accessible.”

“We realize these changes won’t be easy, but as I’ve told Team NGA: ‘Hard is authorized.’ We all know that we need to continually change and improve, to deliver on our mission,” he said. The concepts are not new, Sharp explained, but NGA has just never put them on paper before.

Sharp also introduced a new guide NGA released, titled “The NGA Software Way,” a supplement to “NGA’s Technology Strategy” on how teams can develop, release and operate software to meet mission needs and user expectations. The 12-page document provides contractor and government teams with metrics to track for each software product as well as a step-by-step guide for building, iterating on, and operating software products.

“The ‘NGA Software Way’ shows how NGA and industry can work together to deliver useful software faster and is an actionable, 12-page guide based on industry best practices,” Sharp said.

Additionally, Sharp announced publication of the Common Operations Release Environment (CORE), which outlines a common environment for modern software development and operations. “CORE is where we’ll build and operate software,” Sharp said.

“These outline the ways and best practices for which industry and the agency can collaborate to develop and utilize the latest in geospatial technology,” Sharp said.

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