Op-ed | The future of geointelligence is about information dominance, not data

The conflict in Ukraine has put the significance of data dominance on full show. Western media have made in depth use of business satellite tv for pc imagery to doc Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine. And whereas this imagery has performed an vital function in galvanizing world opinion in opposition to Russia, the US and its allies nonetheless stand at a pivotal second for data dominance.

Credit score: preligens.com

Earth statement represents an intense worldwide contest with billions of {dollars} at stake within the authorities and industrial sectors. By most metrics, the U.S. maintains a commanding lead in area applied sciences. The U.S. operates roughly 2,800 satellites; China operates fewer than 500, whereas Russia has fewer than 200. U.S. organizations even have lowered limitations to entry, slashing launch prices to beneath $2,000 per kilogram to low Earth orbit. Regardless of the excessive ranges of funding and achievement, too few sources go to analytics and producing insights from Earth statement data, opening alternatives for adversaries to overhaul the U.S. and allies.

The trail to preserving U.S. and allied data dominance begins with acknowledging the aggressive panorama. Throughout the 2021 GEOINT Symposium, Dave Gauthier, director of the Business and Enterprise Operations Group on the U.S. Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company, shared NGA’s Olympic Video games-themed evaluation of the world’s industrial Earth statement capabilities. The analysis highlighted the rising world competitors between industrial operators in Earth statement, with Washington and allies confronted by rising rivals. Of the 9 classes, corporations from the U.S. collectively claimed three gold medals, as did corporations from China.


The variety of Earth statement satellites has expanded fivefold since 2012, with extra will increase anticipated for the foreseeable future. As extra satellites attain orbit, the period of persistent surveillance approaches. Quickly wherever on Earth might be imaged at any time. If Earth statement knowledge had been flowing water, a as soon as dripping faucet has morphed right into a backyard hose and can quickly be a firehose. Inadequate investments in data processing and exploitation imply many authorities businesses worldwide will drown in knowledge.

The worth of Earth statement knowledge additionally has developed, with extra sources turning into accessible. As with most commodities, costs go down when provides improve. Legacy enterprise fashions have modified, too, with satellite tv for pc knowledge accessible in new codecs and platforms. Shoppers can nonetheless process and purchase particular person photographs, however modern licensing agreements and APIs now allow entry to huge libraries for product growth or assist to fleeting operations.


To make sure the West’s continued data dominance, the U.S. and its allies should have the ability to course of and analyze terabytes of Earth statement knowledge earlier than adversaries. The maturing Earth statement market means accessing knowledge presents fewer challenges than leveraging what any world competitor can purchase. In lots of nations at the moment engaged in battle, data dominance permeates army doctrine and drives operations. Because the battle in Ukraine unfolds, the U.S. and its allies have proven the worth of dispelling Russian misinformation campaigns with Earth statement knowledge.

In the meantime, authorities businesses proceed to confront points equivalent to cybersecurity and non-attributable tasking, in addition to the pressing must scale analytics capabilities to make sense of the ever-increasing quantity of Earth statement knowledge.

Scaling evaluation of Earth statement knowledge requires balancing conventional tradecraft and automation, with human-machine teaming on the heart. Established practices for deriving insights from satellite tv for pc imagery and different distant sensing sources profit from many years of success. As well as, making use of synthetic intelligence and machine studying options to redundant procedures frees analysts to give attention to high-priority points, enabling extra speedy contextualization and interpretation of complicated occasions. As soon as applied, well-executed human-machine teaming workflows enable for scaled evaluation of Earth statement knowledge whereas sustaining confidence in outcomes and assessments.

Final 12 months, I contributed to a white paper revealed by the U.S. Geospatial-Intelligence Basis titled: “The State of Synthetic Intelligence and Machine Studying (AI/ML) within the GEOINT Group and Past.” The white paper highlights a collection of suggestions for AI/ML adoption and countering adversaries. As a name to motion, the second has arrived for the U.S. and its allies to cement data dominance within the GEOINT discipline. Merely put, creating circumstances for presidency, industrial, and educational collaboration in AI/ML will safe the U.S. and allies’ aggressive benefit over adversaries.


The U.S. and its allies ought to develop area insurance policies to incorporate strong assist for organizations constructing AI/ML options for Earth statement knowledge. An inventory of engineering feats within the area sector would fill a ebook — and reveal disparities between programs and analytics. Investments in launch, spacecraft, sensors and communications dwarf what has been devoted to analyzing Earth statement knowledge. Up to now, the inequity of sources represents a missed alternative for the U.S. and its allies. It additionally contrasts with adversaries equivalent to Russia and China that prioritize the event of AI/ML capabilities. Sustaining the established order dangers not solely missed alternative but in addition casting the U.S. and its allies as runners up within the race for data dominance.

Mark Knapp is vp for protection and intelligence applications at Preligens, a developer of synthetic intelligence options for analyzing geospatial intelligence knowledge.

This text initially appeared within the April 2022 concern of table4 journal.

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