NIMA Charts New Course

WASHINGTON (05/02/2000) - The U.S. Department of Defense'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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