Are you sorry you started reading this series yet? When Infantry guy asked me to expand on my story about working this problem with FIA and GAP and “stuff,” I did warn him that it was going to be a book-mainly because there was so much badness to unpack that a handful of articles just wouldn’t do justice to it. I did try, but once the “chuices” started flowing it was on like Donkey Kong-and here we are!
I digress with the bad examples, of which there are no lack of them, and each is illustrative of my point that we are bad at this, my friend! One of the things we (NGA) did as part of the move to the new building discussed in Part 26 was to establish a very costly and overbuilt Interim Transition Center (ITC,) mainly because one of our seniors who was in a position of responsibility imagined the brilliancy that we would do a two-step transition to New Campus East (NCE)-initially cutting systems over to the ITC, and then to NCE itself.
I guess if you are clever, you could make the case that many people move into temporary lodging after they sell their house, awaiting construction to complete, or renovations, or whatever on their new digs. The concept is understandable.
But if you are smart, I don’t know Vern-I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer-but our team met with the team responsible for planning our NCE move to get an idea of the choreography for the big muscle movements, and we eventually came up with a plan that would meet the timelines in a way where we wouldn’t skip a beat providing mission support to the community. I say our team because we had two of the most capable people I’ve ever worked with who came up with the plan, both of whom eventually went to work for the NCE Team.
The whole point in the careful and very expensive choreography of buying all new stuff in the movement to NCE was eliminating any possible mission degradation by ensuring that IT services and support were tested and ready to go before users closed on the move into the building. The NCE Team ensured that by-it was part of the plan-scheduling for each move “increment” (mission or people or location based) to come to NCE to migrate their credentials to the new IT by going through somewhat of their normal, daily routine, tickling the software packages they would normally interact with and settling the machine images for their jobs-analysts, source folks, admin-etc., in advance of the actual move.
None of these readiness forays could take place unless the mission IT set was in place and ready to go: the equipment and IT delivered first, which was a genius idea. Of course-if you are a “nitpicker” (and who hasn’t picked a nit,) that did mean that IT equipment necessarily had to be purchased well before it was going to be used by humans by nearly a year, meaning it would have to be recapped or upgraded in the first two years once we moved in, so add more to the IT bill, rinse and repeat.
To shorten the above, it seems like the ITC came about as one of those government organizational dysfunctions where there is always one connected loose cannon who is on the margins doing their own thing and nobody calls them on it, and you end up with an ITC that just doesn’t fit in with the plan.
I was responsible for overseeing two big tranches of capability and people moves-and we tested the necessary mission elements on actual destination systems before we packed up one pencil. So, I didn’t get the ITC idea at all, ever, never. I mentioned earlier in this series that part of our move involved the fitting out of a data center to replace the one we were using (in our footprint that we were leaving.) A somewhat long pole in our NCE movement tent was the migration of the data center holdings. For some reason our team started getting a lot of pressure to leverage the “benefits” of the ITC to choreograph our move.
I say for some reason because I didn’t want to say that Mr. Whiny Senior who came up with the plan for the ITC had “schemed” a way to pay for it by including parts of the move “increment” that in his own clever little mind should be moved through the ITC: Our business unit-unsurprisingly-constituted a lot of the “cabbage to make that dinner work…”
When we discovered this plan/scheme-it had never been discussed with my boss-or me-the responsible individual-or communicated by the NCE team responsible for the choreography of the moves-I was as polite as an Army person can be about such stupidity. Until Mr. Whiny Senior pants talked a whole bunch of schmack to our Deputy Director about our lack of cooperation-who talked to me-so I agreed to brief Mr. Whiney. He was bijee, bijee, bijee, and he canceled and continually blew us-me-off-didn’t show up for a series of meetings where our team drove up from the Navy Yard to Bethesda to walk him through why the ITC was not an option for us. About the 3rd time it happened-I’d had enough-resulting in “us” showing up at his office with our planning lead, with ~fifteen minutes to go in the meeting he was in the process of blowing off. We pretty much forced him to sit through a discussion and address the timeline that showed his ITC being ready to go about 8 months after our need date to start moving data to complete the migration of our data center. In hindsight it was comical, as I asked his secretary-is Mr. Whiney in: I opened the door, sat down at his conference table and said, “let’s go.”
One of the show stopping problems with his “scheme”-if you need something in addition to the fact that his ready to operate date was later than our data migration need date start-was that he would have needed to request an upgrade to his ITC classification storage authorization level from the delegated controlling authority-which was-you guessed it-the folks he had been blowing off and avoiding: so there was that little detail to discuss as well. As we said in the Army: you can’t make this schtick up…
I have a cartoon here somewhere that our team put together that depicts him peeking through the partially opened ITC door and there is a bear outside with a hat that says Max and a caption of “Your buddy is here…:” it was a big hit around the office forever.
Our data center had nearly ~3 Petabytes of data that had to be migrated out to our Arnold Facility in St. Louis, Missouri in time for us to move to NCE and to start using it without skipping a beat: it was not a trivial event in the move schedule. While my inclination is to regale dear reader with the tale of that choreography, I believe that would cross the line from a long article series to cruel and unusual punishment…So where did this “ITC” thing fit: exactly-and for whom???
Recall the NIMA Commission commentary about acquisition performance: Spotty. At some point after we completed the move to NCE-an awesome, brand spanking new building-we had an agency level “emergency” budget meeting and one of the discussions was funding for the ITC. Uh, question in the back? What does the “I” in ITC stand for: “we here?” It turned out the ITC was on a longer-term contract than seemed warranted by the NCE completion dates: but there was talk of hosting community projects for money….
Ever seen the commercial where the transmission guy is in the foreground and in the background, there are four or so monkeys beating on a transmission with bats: I work with monkeys…
The NCE move was done well-there were a million things that had to be planned and they all seemed to go well. I personally believe we-NGA-lost a great opportunity for that NIMA Commission recommended TPED organizational construct for our enterprise architecture, but it was not in the cards given the talent level we brought to the fight.
I’m tempted to go off on a tangent to tell the story about how we pulled together a Knowledge Management Plan of Action and Milestones intended to do exactly that (a new TPED organizational construct) that was schemed and colluded against and killed because it did not fit the plan-which was to keep it simple, stupid: “just buy new stuff.” But the telling of that story would elevate a long series to “cruel and unusual…”
Before I began the detour of the last several sections, I was relating how data Science applications can provide an astounding range of options for those who have the agility to avail themselves of the concepts. If you had the output of 1000 satellites coming in with all the cloud analytics distributed across the enterprise applying artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, signature scripting, comparative processing, shredding these data streams to bits, doing the counts that machines are so good at, performing tactical identification (ditto…,) populating information data bases upstream of analysts, enabling analysts to focus on the highest priority of the high priority requirements, you could very easily slip in some “Meat and Potatoes” (MEPOT) NTM exquisite information that would integrate and hide in plain sight to augment a target requirement: who could pick it out with all those people at the Rose Bowl?
In effect flooding the zone with collection would create an even bigger innovative tier than is ongoing where we have a number of very good commercial firms doing such analysis (Ursa Space, Orbital Insight, Descartes Labs, Arete, MAXAR, ESRI.) I’m sure the government could use a little more “clever-sauce” and find a way to augment commercial data when and as needed to provide target grade solutions as part of all that collection going on out there (winky, winky🙂 it’s like Prego (it’s in there.)
I’m specifically but peripherally referring to augmenting commercial with NTM on a selective basis for exquisite, high priority missions. One of the issues with dealing with something like Hypersonic alternatives or the aforementioned Prompt Global Strike mentioned by Gen Cartwright-is the terminal velocity where the weapon is closing on the target at SR-71-like speeds on steroids where you can barely tweak to hit a desired mean point of impact (DMPI-aim point) because there is a very tight window in which to do it given the weapon’s speed (it is not a joke that the SR-71 took half a good sized state to turn around-hypersonic weapons will be moving up to 5X as fast (~Mach 10).
If the only asset providing an update is one our less capable commercial persistence assets (from a pointing accuracy and ground sampling distance perspective,) we need somewhat of a fine-tuning capability that improves the location data and does it tout suite-in the data stream-that we will likely have to link to the weapons system enroute/at closure-untouched by human hands (machine-to-machine)-there just isn’t time for us (much like the Mars Rover Landing conducted by computers.)
A lot of that risk reduction work has been thought of-and done-but many good ideas somewhat died of neglect or became a victim of the government equivalent of COVID for technology programs-well before we knew that was a thing-as the NIMA GEOSKUNK effort and the NRO FIA fever inflicted bill paying and money harvesting and the killing of otherwise good programs.
The project I’m thinking about-GRIDLOCK-in regard to the above looked at inserting a control image base into the data stream of a video source-for instance Predator or Global Hawk-and the algorithms that would tighten up the precision to allow target grade coordinates to be calculated within an otherwise non-precision data source.
I’m wandering from my topic but one of the lessons learned from a study of many of these government programs is my point about delivering “yesterday’s technology, tomorrow.” This recent DoD announcement by my buddy DoD Chief Information Officer John Sherman, about contract awards to vendors for the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) is long overdue and a great example.
It is also somewhat depressing when you consider the Intelligence Community (IC) Information Technology Enterprise has been on contract and implementing for over 8 years and it’s been 16 years since NSA delivered a hybrid cloud for the Real Time Gateway: hell, that is a career…
My point with the above is that it is a “rinse and repeat” moment along the lines of my “Doc’s space time continuum theory,” from the standpoint of another lost opportunity. If you set Peabody’s Wayback Machine to an early segment in this series, recall my whine about Richard Armitage canceling the US Army Tactical Imagery Exploitation System in 1984, resulting in a gap in soldier imagery skills, knowledge and ability/experiences that eventually played out in a bad way during Desert Storm with the lack of experience in the force.
The issue of commercial imagery and promoting a robust US industry is a similar case that has been made for the entirety of the 21st century and was a key element of the GAP solution invoked to shore up deficiencies and vulnerabilities caused by the failure of the NRO (Boeing) FIA optical component. Many have been making the case for these ideas-a robust commercial alternative to exquisite-and costly-NTM for decades or longer.
With the costs that have been speculated upon in this series, the government could have spent 20B dollars for the MEPOT option-the anvil, hammer, and then used 5B-hell, 1B (no?) How about 500M for the commercial piece and ended up invigorating a US market that has had little to be invigorated about in the 21st century, while potentially increasing the number of satellites by 100 to 1000x.
A billion here, a billion there, a serious effort to fund aspects of the poster child need for 24x7x365, day-night-all weather, diverse phenomenology, capable of helping the overall constellation work through natural and manmade interference, increasing periodicity to overcome denial and deception, what is not to like about such a plan?
Which is why it is so egregious that policymakers, specifically the ODNI, led by the PDDNI Stephanie O’Sullivan, transferred the commercial data money to the NRO in 2017: the building construction, unqualified satellite builder picker, mean girls hater FIA debacle NRO.
How much has the burgeoning commercial satellite market expanded over the past 20 years-but specifically since these funds transferred to NRO? Hand in the back-that is not a fair question, because they (NRO) are still studying the issue-and they recently cut large contracts with the same firms NGA was funding and been nursing along-all along (MAXAR, Black Sky Global and Planet Labs) while they complete the study (s): who could have predicted that outcome???? Let me see, five years times whatever (several hundred million) is a lot of study work-could have given a buck to every citizen every year!
Just thinking out loud here, but what agency has provided the most funds-been the bill-payer of first choice-for the ODNI–PDDNI–SSCI-during what I’ve described as the “project wars” that resulted in NRO DIR Gen (USAF, Ret) Bruce Carlson resigning and later saw DIR Betty Sapp get lied to “bigly” about bill-payers and projects and scoundrels…that’s right-it was the NRO! I wonder if it would be easier to tap the commercial dollars as a source of funds if they were at NGA or the NRO??? Hmm-talk among yourselves, let me think about that a bit…
You know what wasn’t done with the mitigation solution money that resulted from the DCI’s decision on 18 October 2002? It wasn’t given to the NRO-although funding for FIA was (and those dollars hit the same flat rock as much of the other money.) But funding associated with a commercial option was not given to the organization that had single-handedly created the problem in the first place: I’ve stated before that the idea (of a commercial mitigation option) would have been strangled in the crib had the NRO been the procurement lead. I was surprised-but not shocked by this, although the DCI was between a rock and a hard place with the NRO problems-and NIMA’s emerging GEOSKUNK debacle.
11 January 2023
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