National Intelligence Folly: How a Tragic Unsolved Murder Led to Billions of Dollars of Program Fraud, Waste and Abuse Part 15

Parts 1-13 covered a lot of ground leading up to the events I detailed in article 14, particularly the cancellation and award to Lockheed Martin (LMC) of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) optical component in 2005.

One aspect of the program I’ve barely touched upon is what made it an “architecture,” vice just a constellation, reflective of the Mission Integration or ground-called the “MIND,” as well as the relays, communication satellites and “stuff” that was essential to the end-to-end performance of the system. It was much more than satellites or simply collecting information or putting something in one end and having it come out the other-like-viola, but meeting the specifications captured in the system Key Performance Parameters (KPPs)-and there were a lot of them.

So much time, energy, and hand-wringing was spent over the procurement development period and subsequently-as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA)-later the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)-wrestled with somewhat of the performance-vice the procurement-documentation that was being reflected in the United States Imagery and Geospatial System (USIGS,) Imagery and Geospatial Concept Requirements Document (IGCRD) and the accompanying Operational Requirements Document, that an undercurrent of concern developed as if the vendor-Boeing-was the one being bombarded with the metrics.

In truth the work to refine the enterprise architecture pieces downstream from the satellite and ground processing were way behind. As covered earlier in this series, congress made a down payment of 1.5B to begin to catch-up, against what NIMA DIR LTG James King believed was a ~4B bill. Much of the requirement’s documentation focused on COCOM and community requirements, which was another abstraction level that needed to be bolstered engineering-wise to deal with pretty significant changes to image and data sizes that would come with FIA.

Most of this work focused on the ground processing side of the house-not the MIND-which was on the NRO side of the interface, but the Tasking, Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (TPED) piece described in the requirements documentation.

It was the government translating and trying to resolve and rectify the Community Imagery Needs Forecast (CINF)-an annual survey of Combatant Command, US Agency and service collection requirements updated throughout the year by NIMA Central Imagery Tasking Office (CITO) and later NGA Source for the Geospatial Intelligence Functional Manager-the equivalent to NSA’s role as the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Functional Manager-with the negotiated FIA procurement to decompose and allocate requirements.

Boeing wasn’t at these meetings and was not bound by any of it, as the CINF was more of a planning, modeling and simulation tool than anything. But with 9-11 requirements being factored in as the so-called GWOT CINF came into play, the demand and size of the “collection Deck” had markedly increased with a significant change in priorities, for instance, Afghanistan and Iraq.

I don’t know if the above is as clear as I can make it, but the point is that it was “baked in” the FIA procurement, with the CINF collection requirements rolled up and reflected in the KPPs. The NIMA run USIGS Community Evaluation Group (UCEG) was the forum that worked the CINF requirements on a quarterly and yearly basis and was the tool that was used to compile user requirements that constituted what Source eventually loaded as collection requirements (daily/weekly/monthly-requirements (the periodicity;)) arguing that the above process caused requirements creep that confounded Boeing would be like arguing for a pay and budget increase to do the mail over the “surprising” Christmas holidays.

Eventually a different approach was used to map the “effectivities” (capability that was delivered or achieved) at a point in time as Boeing delivered some of the FIA constellation-and it soon became increasingly apparent that NGA was having its own difficulties with its GEOSCOUT procurement activity that was undertaken to engineer necessary capability to accommodate FIA: and that is a whole nother “gas-station sushi” story for another day.

The more Boeing struggled with the optical component, the more “noise”-that sure sounded like whining-was coming out of the Boeing camp and their “fanboys-” that there was too much emphasis being placed on the “metrics-” the system performance and requirements-and too little on the capability-the value-added nature offered by such a novel satellite design.

Many believe to this day and still make the case periodically that what ultimately doomed Boeing’s effort was at least partially-if not primarily- an inability to make the threshold or base system collection requirements that grew out of control, never mind the objective specification that was the fully funded system specification.

If you are ever in such a boring conversation with somebody and they start to talk about requirements creep-don’t fall for that silliness. The US government negotiates procurement contracts that have an agreed upon-by the contractor-set of performance metrics; and every contractor who ever struggled to meet their “optimistic” performance criteria fell back on the “requirement’s creep” discussion.

I mentioned throughout this series that Boeing had several major technical engineering problems integrating the system they proposed that was the basis for the award over LMC. I covered some of the Corona Project history previously. As that project drew to a close in favor of the real-time imagers that did not have to kick-out and return film buckets, the somewhat nirvana end-state objective was for a satellite that combined the capabilities of the KH-9, which was the ultimate solution (at the time) for synoptic or area coverage missions, while the KH-8 was the ultimate Scientific and technology, or research and development satellite for high resolution point targets.

If you could somehow combine the two capabilities in one telescope, that would be an amazing engineering feat; that’s what Boeing proposed to do. It proved impossible for Boeing to engineer.

While somewhat too simplistic to describe it as impossible, as it could probably be done, but you had the concomitant requirement or system specification-regardless of whether it was an area or point target-to meet the target location error specification in terms of linear error, and circular error.

That specification wasn’t made up or pulled out of somebody’s woo-woo, we had performing satellites (the KH-8 and KH-9) that were the state of the art on achievable technology at the time as the basis for the point of departure for the procurement.

Nobody expected a proposal that all of a sudden proffered a quadruple Sokol and landing on their head: something that had never been accomplished before.

The analogous problem in the mapping world is you simply can’t render the features of a map to anything but relative accuracy, unless the map projection is depicted in three dimensions: and even then, you have myriad compromises to make. Angles, areas, distances and directions (size, scale, shape, true direction) represent a compromise that varies with the chosen scale and is accurate in relation to the map scale.

The Achilles heel of the Boeing design was the system pointing and accuracy specification. Not to get too detailed or in the weeds here, but these are complex telescopes in a restrictive space-even though some of the satellites are as big as a bus (or bigger.) An average telescope has quite a few mirrors and steps in the optical path-some have more than a dozen-and each path represents a challenge to accuracy and an accrual of what are hopefully small errors that must be mitigated via a calibration process to achieve best performance.

If there were a climactic moment in this entire series-you’ve reached it-and I would ask for a drum roll here: to overcome the calibration challenge and to achieve the specified (procurement proposed) system accuracy, Boeing bid a process that would have achieved a tighter or higher calibration specification tolerance than had ever been achieved on earth.

It was an order of magnitude better than the best laboratories in America could achieve in a sterile and static environment at the time: and they proposed to achieve it in Low Earth Orbit in space, while zooming along at ~17,000 MPH!

When our team reached this part of the Boeing proposal, we stopped for a good 45 minutes. Math was done, contacts contacted at Lincoln Lab, Harvard Physics Lab, Stanford Optics, Los Alamos, Livermore, Kodak, Kunia, etc. Our group took a quick lunch break at this point and discussed it upon return. The briefers acknowledged it was a big deal. However, it was not the biggest problem ongoing with the procurement at the time-if you can believe it-and therefore had not received as much attention as it otherwise likely would have in normal circumstances.

How the government ever came to believe this would be possible, and therefore selected Boeing, is beyond me. Achieving the proposed calibration was the only way to produce the lynchpin of the system represented by the tremendous accuracy it was going to routinely produce.

I believe LMC-who (again) had designed and flown every US government satellite to this point in history, knew about but was too experienced to allow themselves to be cornered in that satellite vendors graveyard, which would have represented a radical departure from the heretofore design that had proven very effective. In fact, if LMC thought such a thing was possible they would have proposed and built it long before 1999.

Much of the FIA contract was executed very well-even the Boeing radar component-which was a great first article for their space focused programs-but it is on the government for accepting such a risky design on the optical piece that caused all the hate, discontent and cost overruns. Of course, the smooth-running parts are not germane to my story-that would be like bragging about the performance of the Titanic’s engines-and there was an issue with the radar that might be covered down the road…

One of the most interesting backstories playing out over this timeframe (1995-2005) was the pending and long talked about-since ~1955- establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that was among the most important recommendations that came out of the 9-11 Commission Report. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte made the cancellation decision-likely the most consequential and costly program decision in IC history, most certainly in the relatively brief history of the ODNI.

The subsequent award decision was transmitted to the contractor by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI) Dr. Stephen Cambone in a meeting at the Pentagon-ironically enough, attended by the aforementioned NRO DIR Jeff Harris, who was now the LMC lead for this aspect of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, as was the LMC Systems Integration (SI) lead Billy Graham, NGA Dep Dir Ms. Joanne Isham and others.

The topic of cancellation and what to do in the aftermath played heavily in an earlier meeting at the Saturday Morning Prayer Breakfast (described previously) that Dr. Cambone sponsored for all the IC seniors to discuss programmatics and “stuff” that was held prior to the standup of the Office of the DNI (ODNI.) At one particularly memorable session Boeing President “Robbie” Roberts and Jeff Harris did a presentation on their FIA program “residue,” with Roberts presenting schedule, actual and projected costs, while Jeff presented estimated cost.

Of particular interest to armed chair quarterbacks’ community-wide and the group was the so-called “Frankensat” option that I described a bit in an earlier article that explained why so many parts were manufactured in a production run to get absolute top-notch quality. It might take a run of 20 or more to get the 6 or 8 ~96 percentile quality test results necessary to get to the contract specification life estimate. And why it was somewhat of a niche satellite manufacturing “joke” to talk about scraping up parts off the production floor to do something like Frankensat: while funny, it was not a myth.

29 November 2022

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