President Approves New Spy Satellites

President Approves New Spy Satellites

After more than a decade of false starts by the intelligence community, President Barack Obama has approved a new constellation of highly capable electro-optical surveillance satellites.

“When it comes to supporting our military forces and the safety of Americans, we cannot afford any gaps in collection,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in a press statement. “We are living with the consequences of past mistakes in acquisition strategy, and we cannot afford to do so again. We’ve studied this issue, know the right course, and need to move forward now.”

The National Reconnaissance Office will manage acquisition of the system and operate the new constellation. Lockheed Martin will build the systems. They will be roughly similar in capabilities to the existing spy satellite constellation, a senior intelligence official told reporters Tuesday evening. The new satellites should launch within the next decade.

“We simply are not going to launch a program that is based on long reach technology or unrealistic funding,” the official said. This is a clear reference to the disastrous Future Imagery Architecture program run by Boeing, perhaps the largest intelligence program ever cancelled. The new program’s contract should be signed within months.

The intelligence official denied that discussions between the Pentagon and intelligence community had been acrimonious – as several participants have said over the last few weeks. Instead, he said that the Defense Secretary and Director of National Intelligence were joined at the hip on this program. President Obama personally approved the program, which the intelligence official said was not uncommon for such significant programs.

In a move that took some observers by surprise, the intelligence community and Pentagon have decided to buy commercial satellite imagery from GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. As of last week, there has been no mention of such purchases and some industry observers were extremely nervous about the direction of the talks.

“The decisions about exactly what arrangements will be made with the two commercial providers have not been made,” the intelligence official said. They should be worked out in the next few weeks. Both the intelligence community and the Pentagon will buy imagery, as has been the case for years.

As a GeoEye spokesman noted today, his company has already committed more than $30 million dollars to the next generation satellite, known as GeoEye 2, and ITT is already grinding its 1.1 meter mirror.

Ground resolution for pictures taken from this satellite would be a remarkable 9.75 inches.

“We are really encouraged by this announcement and we think this move is the right move not only for defense and intelligence customers, but for the taxpayers as well,” said GeoEye spokesman Mark Brender.

Sen. Kit Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said in a March 16 letter to DNI Dennis Blair that a joint CIA-National Reconnaissance Office report endorsed the use of smaller, close-orbiting satellites, adding he thought the new constellation was “a poor choice.”

“You are asking the taxpayers to pay more for a single article than we paid for the last Nimitz-class aircraft carrier,” Bond wrote.

Asked whether the program could withstand the ]opposition of such a senior lawmaker, the senior intelligence official said that “we and the secretary of defense plan to support this program wholeheartedly and, with the support of the White House, expect to get this through.” A second official went straight to the bottom line and said the intelligence community believed it had the votes in Congress to pass the program.

Several Pentagon and intelligence community sources have said the new system would cost roughly $10 billion, with an early injection of some $3 billion to get it started. The senior intelligence official would not discuss the program’s cost other than to confirm that the intelligence community would provide the majority of the funding. That means the Intelligence Community will possess acquisition authority over the new program.

The senior intelligence official also rejected claims by Pentagon officials that the new system was “exquisite” or, in the words of a senior Pentagon official, “a Rolex.”

The senior intelligence official said that “if you start talking about costs of these kinds of machines you really need to start with the premise that our mission here is one of the most challenging we do.” But in light of that, the government will not be “moving to another plateau of performance. These systems that we are building will be the functional equivalent to the ones we have been buying over the last several years.”

The reason for that is two-fold. First, the disaster of FIA marked all those associated with it. Second, as the intelligence official noted, “the industrial base for these satellites is very narrow and very thin” so the country does not want to push for more than it could handle.

Following is today’s press release about the new constellation from the Director of National Intelligence:

DNI Blair Announces Plan for the Next Generation of Electro-Optical Satellites

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that the Office of the DNI along with the Department of Defense (DoD) have put together a plan to modernize the nation’s aging satellite-imagery architecture by prudently evolving government-owned satellite designs and enhancing use of U.S. commercial providers.

“Imagery is a core component of our national security that supports our troops, foreign policy, homeland security and the needs of our Intelligence Community,” Blair said. “Our proposal is an integrated, sustainable approach based on cost, feasibility and timeliness that meets the needs of our country now and puts in place a system to ensure that we will not have imagery gaps in the future.

“When it comes to supporting our military forces and the safety of Americans, we cannot afford any gaps in collection,” Blair added. “We are living with the consequences of past mistakes in acquisition strategy, and we cannot afford to do so again. We’ve studied this issue, know the right course, and need to move forward now.”

The joint decision by the DNI and DoD was based on the results of multiple government studies over the past several years, and on the findings and recommendations of an independent panel of former defense and intelligence experts convened by Blair to assess the U.S. government’s review. The studies examined imagery needs, alternative architectures, cost and affordability, technological risk and industry readiness.

Key features of the final plan endorsed by both the DNI and the DoD include:

Government-owned satellites would be developed, built and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. The unique capabilities of these satellites, evolved from existing designs, would give the nation a timely, and often decisive, information advantage.

The Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community would increase the use of imagery available through U.S. commercial providers. This additional capability would provide the government with more flexibility to respond to unforeseen challenges. These less-complex satellites, which are based on technologies already in production by U.S. vendors, would be available sooner than the much more capable NRO-developed and acquired systems – making them especially useful as a near-term supplement and backup to the government’s existing imagery architecture.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency would continue to provide the infrastructure that integrates capabilities as well as imagery products – all of which would be available on a timely basis for military, intelligence, foreign policy and civilian users.

Once Congress approves funding for the plan, implementation will begin in the next several months. The commercial imagery elements of the architecture would likely be operational in the next several years. The overall architecture would be fully deployed before the end of the next decade.

The Director of National Intelligence oversees 16 federal organizations that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community. Additionally, the DNI serves as the principal intelligence adviser to the president, the National Security Council and senior policy makers.

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I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
Very interesting posts and well written.
I will put your site on my blogroll.

Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

I think he’s right to do what we have to to keep Americans safe and give the military what they need to be successful. This was an intersting read.


What’s with the blog-spam recently?

Yes it is a good idea that president obama decided to new spy satellite for the safety not only for the americans but also to the asian allied nations that depends on the USA.

I think that our president is doing an outstanding job and seems to be extremely responsible. I personally respect the grounds he walks on

One immediate fallout of all this was that on Wednesday, April 8th, the current Director of NRO, Scott Large, submitted his resignation to the DNI. The reason for the departure is unknown and was not mentioned in Large’s e-mail to the workforce yesterday afternoon. The speculation was that since Large was a key manager for the failed FIA program, it would not be politically acceptable for him to continue as the NRO Director responsible for the acquisition of the new satellites, which are effectively the replacement programs for the failed FIA program.

But someone better be aware that the need
for HUMINT needs to be NOT over-looked as the tech. materials are approved. remember WHO the enemy IS!!

What must be done, is to be done with great measure.…to Protect and Defend all who are lambs of evil deterrants…the Best of Men…Our President is leaning on this.….Making decisions to offset the devices of many.……If the Congressman and Governors will stop picking at every stance, will afford him room to do what is right, and become solvent in protecting rights of this Nation that proclaims the fervent belief that We are about Freedom.…!

Looks like President Obama is on a roll.

Yes good move, but somone with as little experience as he has had better listen to those whom have walked the walk. Less than 3 months on the job, I still don’t see much progress for the future from your president.

One question that I’d like to see answered — so we can have a new satellite system maybe as early as the next Administration. Will our current fleet work until the next ones are launched? Or will this civilian imagery be the replacement?
And of course the new program will be a model of on time delivery and meeting performance goals? What has changed in the acquisition world to make the new program go better than every other bloated, over budget, under performing one before it??

Charles Phillips,

The intelligence official told us that the first of the new satellites would probably launch within a decade. It’s unclear whether he meant by 2010 — which I doubt — or by 2019. I think, given the long lead times for most of these satellites, that we will see much in less than 4–5 years at best. The civilian imagery is something they have been doing for years. It serves to supplement the intel gained from the high rez sats and allow us to share more imagery with allies.

“secret spy satellite” Hmmm, it’s not secret anymore! Why do we always have to bragg that we have a “Secret”. Just do it! Our peeps always have the “Big Mouth” syndrome even though I know that there are “leaks”. There wouldn’t be as much if we curtailled the information flow. Just an opinion.

I am glad to see this pres do something.The day
after N Korea launches a rocket he announces
ending the missle shield program. Personally
speaking. I question, Does this man have the resolve to protect America?

Obama makes a great Republican.

*** btw, re 9/11 and the reason for spy satellites and general militarism…

“Active Thermitic Material Discovered In Dust From The 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”

brief info:

What the hell is with all of you morons and your idea of some great zionist 9/11 conspiracy?! There are terrorists out there that want to destroy America and everything it used to stand for. (although Obama could end up doing that)

Why need new satellites to replace old ones, the technology has improved and we can benefit from them. It is as simple as that. Satellite images not to mention others picking up electronic signals are very important to the military and national defense.

Turns out I was only addressing one moron. No offense to the rest of you.

The question is: How did the terrorists (whoever they are) get hold of highly refined nano-thermite and gain access to the buildings? Moron back.

It was clearly the work of the Bavarian Illuminati. I mean, were there any Bavarians anywhere NEAR New York on 9/11? I. Don’t. THINK. so!

We must stay ahead in the Space Age were rockets and satillets need constant upgrading.

Bill –This is a good website that gives a general overview of direction we‘re going.The satellite upgrade is of particular interest.You can imagine the behind the scenes “battle royal” that went on at the Pentagon.
Happy Easter! Bill

Gome!Yes,collection is a prime security and “Do
it well man.”

One thing I like to have an answer — as we have a new satellite system, perhaps because the next government. It is our duty to the current fleet of the next version? Or the image will be replaced by civilians?

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