Despite a smaller staff, NIMA does more with maps

Despite a smaller staff, NIMA does more with maps

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which has reduced its work force, is increasingly using commercial technology to fulfill its combat support mission.

'We're getting rid of aeronautical and nautical hard-copy products,' said Mark E. Schultz, associate director of NIMA's Geospatial Information Management Division. 'Even when they are updated regularly, they get out of date.'

Within five years, NIMA officials want the military services' pilots to download maps through the Non-Classified IP Router Network and the Secret IP Router Network from systems in their cockpits, Schultz said.

Schultz said only then will pilots have the most current information at their disposal. 'The database is up-to-date every day,' he said.

NIMA is working with the Navy, which plans by 2007 to end the use of paper charts and maps through the Smart Ship program, he said.

'The technology is there,' but there is a need for more communications infrastructure investment to make widespread Web mapping downloads possible for pilots literally on the fly, said James J. Sippel, deputy director for exploitation systems, which handles systems development at NIMA.

Since NIMA began in 1996, after the CIA and Defense Department merged their mapping operations, the organization has shed 1,800 employees and now has a staff of 7,200, Schultz said. The agency expects to reduce its rolls further and plans up to 700 layoffs during the next few years, he said.

To meet its needs with fewer employees, NIMA's Geospatial Information Management Division is relying more on contractors and has more than tripled its contracting budget from $30 million to $100 million, Schultz said. The bulk of the increase occurred during the last year, he said.

NIMA is doing more with fewer staff members by moving to commercial mapmaking applications. Many of the government's intelligence and defense mapping systems were custom-built. NIMA has been converting the legacy apps to commercial software.

With fewer employees working on software development, NIMA officials are redeploying the agency's work force to other projects, Sippel said.

NIMA gets vendors' help on mapmaking R&D

• Geographic information systems: Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., Erdas Inc. of Atlanta, Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., and MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y.

• Imagery and information systems: Marconi North America Inc. of Rockville, Md.

• Integration projects: Raytheon Co.

• Object-oriented application software: Laser-Scan Inc. USA of Sterling, Va.

• Relational database management systems and tools: Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc.

Role playing

Besides running the government's intelligence and defense mapping effort, NIMA also plays a role in development of the Defense Information Infrastructure's Common Operating Environment, Sippel said. The agency certifies products for the COE's Joint Mapping Tool Kit. 'We still need it,' he said of DII's COE.

Although staff reductions can be painful, there is no downside to boosting technology use, Schultz said. 'We're using far more technology on the operational floor' than 10 years ago, he said. 'And it's better and more current technology.'

Operations and maintenance costs for the commercial software NIMA is maintaining is costing a little less, Sippel said.

Software development work is largely focused on what NIMA officials call glueware, application programming interfaces that make products such as Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 fit NIMA's geospatial requirements, Sippel said.

Besides developing for NT, NIMA is working on apps for SunSoft Solaris and Hewlett-Packard HP-UX Unix. 'We try to build products that run across multiple platforms,' Schultz said.

'Instead of pure R&D, we're working on integration,' he said.

Using such middleware, Sippel wants to develop programs that give DOD, intelligence and even allied forces users access to the functions of four or five software products without even knowing when they are using one product or another.

'We won't be able to take advantage of new technology if we get hooked into one production thread,' Schultz said. Plus, competition between vendors drives down prices and fosters technological innovation, he said.

Aware of NIMA's role as DOD's lead agency for imagery and geospatial data programs, vendors are willing to work closely with the agency on development projects, Schultz said. NIMA encourages vendors to make use of their contracts to do R&D and to craft new features sought by the government map users, he said.


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