Providing Focused Capabilities for Critical ISR Needs
Betty Sapp was appointed the 18th director of the National Reconnaissance Office [DNRO] on July 6, 2012. The DNRO provides direction, guidance and supervision over all matters pertaining to NRO and executes other authorities specifically delegated by the secretary of defense and the director of national intelligence.
Sapp began her government career as an Air Force officer in a variety of acquisition and financial management positions, including: business management positions in the NRO; program element monitor at the Pentagon for the MILSTAR system; program manager for the FLTSATCOM program at the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles; and manager of a joint-service development effort for the A-10 engine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1997, Sapp joined the Central Intelligence Agency. She was assigned to the NRO, where she served in a variety of senior management positions. In 2005, she was appointed the deputy director, NRO for business plans and operations. As such, she was responsible for all NRO business functions, including current-year financial operations, preparation of auditable financial statements, business systems development, budget planning, cost estimating and contracting, as well as all executive and legislative liaison activities.
In May 2007, Sapp was appointed the deputy under secretary of defense [portfolio, programs and resources], Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. In this position, she was responsible for executive oversight of the multibillion-dollar portfolio of defense intelligence-related acquisition programs; the planning, programming, budgeting and execution of the multibillion dollar Military Intelligence Program; and the technology efforts critical to satisfying both current and future warfighter needs.
In April 2009, Sapp was appointed the principal deputy director of NRO, where she provided overall day-to-day management of NRO, with decision responsibility as delegated by the DNRO. Sapp holds a Bachelor of Arts, and an MBA, Management, both from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is also Level III certified in Government Acquisition and was certified as a Defense Financial Manager.
Q: After completing a successful launch program in 2012, what are NRO’s launch plans for 2013 and beyond?
A: After supporting six launches in 2011, and four in 2012, we’ve established a great track record for a successful 2013 campaign. We have two launches planned this year from Vandenberg AFB, Calif.--a Delta IV Heavy in August and an Atlas V in December. Over the next few years we plan an average of two to three launches annually.
Q: What are the key elements for your strategy for supporting and strengthening the space launch industry?
A: There are two key elements involved in our strategy to support and strengthen the space launch industry: being a reliable customer for our industry partners, and collaborating with our interagency partners on broader space launch industrial base issues.
We rely on the domestic launch industry to provide access to space for National Security Space [NSS] missions. NRO strives to be a reliable customer by delivering our spacecraft on the schedule we establish upfront, and by stabilizing our launch support requirements. Both of these actions provide predictability and stability the launch industry can plan against.
NRO also works with our partners in the Department of Defense and NASA to invest in and sustain the current domestic launch industry, as well as to provide opportunities for new launch providers. Specifically, we leverage the investments of our interagency partners, as well as support the coordinated strategy for new entrant launch vehicle certification signed by NASA, NRO and the Air Force in October 2011. We also participate with those same partners in the Space Industrial Base Council.
Q: What is the relationship of NRO to the Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle [EELV] program?
A: We have a longstanding partnership with the Air Force and the highly reliable EELV program. EELV launches have been vital to the NRO’s mission of delivering capabilities critical to our national security. In total, 14 NRO payloads have been placed on orbit riding on Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, including four Delta IV Heavy missions. The Air Force EELV block buy strategy, which we fully support, incorporates requirements for 11 additional NRO missions through fiscal year 2017.
Q: NRO participated in a ridesharing-in-space effort last year. What results do you hope to see from this strategy? When is the next mission that will feature ridesharing?
A: We have long recognized that there are benefits and efficiencies to be gained through ridesharing in space. In addition to the cost savings, these benefits include opportunities to conduct scientific research, demonstrate and apply emerging technologies, and reduce the risk of inserting new technologies into NRO core space systems.
Last September we launched 11 CubeSats as auxiliary payloads on NROL-36, as part of the Operationally Unique Technologies Satellite [OUTSat] mission. The OUTSat mission demonstrated our capability to integrate multiple auxiliary payloads into the launch vehicle carrying our primary payload, and successfully deliver them to orbit. The OUTSat mission also demonstrated that we could achieve a price point, through ridesharing, that simply could not have been achieved through a different strategy. Because of this success, NRO is planning to place up to 10 CubeSats on our December Atlas V launch as part of the Government Experimental Multi-Satellite mission.
Q: What is NRO’s strategy for use of new launch capability?
A: NRO intends to take advantage of the full range of domestic launch capability to meet our requirements for highly reliable, affordable space launch. Last summer, we awarded a delivery-toorbit mission that will use a Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with launch planned for December 2015. We have also identified two launch missions as candidates for competition; the first of the two must be awarded no later than December 2014 to support a planned launch in December 2016.
NRO efforts in this area are fully consistent with the previously mentioned coordinated strategy for new entrant launch vehicle certification. The strategy ensures a consistent, coherent government approach that new space launch providers can plan against. NRO will continue to collaborate with the Air Force and NASA, as well as with potential new launch providers, to ensure we are able to take full advantage of new launch capabilities as soon as they are demonstrated and certified.
Q: NRO participates in DoD war games. How does NRO benefit by participating in war games?
A: War games allow us an opportunity to demonstrate what we can provide our mission partners and customers, to learn more about user requirements and concerns, and to practice joint operations with our partners in AFSPACECOM and USSTRATCOM. They also provide us with an efficient and low-cost approach to examine a multitude of possibilities, to include alternative strategies and architectures. Finally, they let us experiment with innovative techniques against projected target trends and an ever-changing threat environment.
Q: How do the NRO field reps and liaison officers support DoD and deployed units?
A: In concert with our mission partners, we provide direct support to the combatant commands [CCMD], their service components and deployed tactical units. We provide them with a wide array of capabilities, products and services to include education, training, exercise support and subject matter expertise on NRO systems and products. We also provide operational coordination and innovative technical solutions to challenging ISR needs.
We position experienced field representatives [FRs] at each CCMD and other key intelligence user locations to ensure we understand their needs. We then strive to find solutions to those needs, whether those involve new capabilities, modification of existing capabilities, additional training or different CONOPS. To do this, our FRs reach back and leverage the entire NRO enterprise. We directly support the war in Afghanistan by deploying liaison officers [LNOs] to key staffs and operational commands. This allows us to be responsive to the needs of the warfighter and intelligence analysts, and to ensure that they can fully leverage the capabilities of NRO ISR systems, capabilities and intelligence-derived products. The NRO FR and LNO programs have proven to be very successful. The best proof of that fact is the great feedback I receive from those they support.
Q: What has NRO been doing in the past few years to support the warfighter?
A: One of the major advantages of declassifying the existence of NRO in 1992 was that it allowed us to share our products and our capabilities with a much broader set of users. As a result, while NRO remains critically important to national policymakers, we were able to become a critical player in tactical operations as well. Today, there are many operations in Afghanistan that aren’t just supported by NRO, but which truly rely on NRO.
In addition to traditional NRO ISR systems and support, we provide a wide array of focused capabilities to help solve specific, critical ISR needs in the Afghanistan area of responsibility. We’ve brought dozens of innovative ISR solutions to the fight. These services, products and tools directly contribute to the highest-priority missions, to include counter-IED efforts, identifying and tracking high-value targets, countering narcotics trafficking, and special communications.
However, the most important capability we provide to the fight is our people—our on-site problem-solvers. We typically have about 75 men and women deployed into harm’s way on any given day serving as liaison officers to units, providing technical expertise, or supporting those focused NRO programs. Every day, they have a direct and positive influence on combat operations and mission success, to include saving the lives of U.S. and coalition forces. As far as the programs and capabilities we provide to Afghanistan, classification and the amount of time it would take to cover our programs greatly limit what I can discuss. I’ll cover just a few highlights, but trust me when I say that we bring a lot more to the fight.
We partnered with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to provide airborne light detection and ranging [LiDAR] imagery. LiDAR has been very effective in mapping the rugged terrain of Afghanistan, improving force protection, operational planning and situational awareness.
At the request of the deputy under secretary of defense [intelligence] for joint coalition and warfighter support, NRO developed and fielded the Communications Externals Geo-fusion System [CEGS]. One of the key capabilities of the system has been to cue emitter locations in near real-time to full motion video operators, effectively speeding up the “find” portion of the ISR mission. The ability to combine CEGS geolocations with GEOINT has been used with great success, and has regularly contributed to enhanced battlefield awareness during combat operations, insurgent attacks and convoy operations.
In the counter-IED effort, one of our most successful programs has been RED DOT. RED DOT takes the various sources of indications and warnings we receive, combines them into an integrated picture, then sends them out directly to the tactical user, to include the HMMWV on patrol. The program gets its name from the red dot it places on a map to highlight an area of concern. Last year alone, RED DOT indications resulted in the removal of more than 235 IEDs from the battlefield—a huge success for the program, and a real lifesaver for our men and women in harm’s way.
A real strength of NRO is our ability to fuse multi-intelligence data to support warfighter intelligence needs. We have helped the warfighter visualize large volumes of data temporally and spatially, establishing patterns of life, identifying the unusual within a multitude of fused data sets, and integrating full motion video data with automated multi-intelligence tipping, cueing and alerting capabilities. Our cutting-edge solutions combine GEOINT and SIGINT, and span the space, air and ground operational domains to improve the warfighter’s common operational picture and enhance his effectiveness in finding, fixing and finishing targets.
Specifically, the NRO has developed numerous advanced capabilities for personnel recovery and friendly force tracking, and our quick-reaction capability solutions have been employed with resounding success in counter-IED, homemade explosive materials detection, and special communications missions worldwide.
Q: What are your plans for supporting the warfighter by delivering intelligence data to the field via mobile devices?
A: We recognized long ago that one of the major challenges facing our servicemembers on foot-patrol in the streets of Afghanistan, Iraq or other parts of the world is getting the latest situational awareness info to them. That is one of the major reasons why we developed the Enhanced Quality Imagery Search Mobile [EQUIS Mobile] application in conjunction with NGA. EQUIS Mobile is a web-based geospatial intelligence discovery, display, production and dissemination tool. It allows users to search the unclassified NGA imagery library and then display, annotate or share the images right from their smartphone or tablet. As a note, law enforcement officials are now also using EQUIS Mobile for their operations.
Q: What is NRO doing to help integrate information about its capabilities into military training programs?
A: In addition to the use of our NRO field representatives, one of the most effective ways we integrate our capabilities into military exercises and training programs is through the use of mobile training teams [MTTs]. Our MTTs visit service schools and units as well as take part in combatant command exercises in order to provide insight into and instruction on NRO’s capabilities. By visiting the units and taking part in their exercises, our MTTs are able to provide valuable hands-on training and computer-based tools. These efforts all help to ensure the units are able to fully leverage the capabilities of NRO in their operations.
Q: What role do you see the Ground Enterprise Directorate [GED] playing in the NRO mission, now and in the future?
A: Ground functions are absolutely critical to planning and executing ISR missions, and in processing the data collected from our national satellites. One of the major challenges NRO faces is the current stove-piped nature of our systems—specific ground systems supporting specific space systems and specific functions. While these stove-piped systems were necessary in the past to address mission needs and provide critical information, they are not right for us today and into the future. They preclude us from using our overhead architecture as an architecture, and they drive support costs which are simply not sustainable in today’s budget environment.
The NRO GED team has already made considerable headway in moving us toward a more holistic, “horizontal” ground enterprise-- a single networked information collection and distribution system more responsive to user needs, more resilient in the face of projected threats, and much more efficient and effective in providing mission capabilities. The future NRO ground enterprise will enable the delivery of information to our mission partners and users when they need it and where they need it.
Q: What is the status of NRO’s five-year strategy for optimizing IT?
A: NRO, under the leadership of our Chief Information Office [CIO], has made great strides in the effort to optimize IT. The CIO, working closely with our Communications Directorate, has actively pursued innovative enterprise solutions to IT problems; developed a comprehensive roadmap to follow; tackled stove-pipes; and implemented a standards and commodity-based platform and operating model that will serve NRO well into the future. We also created an IT Executive Committee, which provides leadership, direction and guidance for NRO IT information assurance and information management programs and activities. The decisions made by this committee, such as establishing a common portfolio management approach, creating and using one corporate product list, and leveraging license agreements, have created major efficiencies for NRO.
Perhaps more importantly, our efforts to optimize NRO IT have positioned us well to support and transition to the Intelligence Community IT Enterprise [IC ITE]. IC ITE is one of the biggest initiatives to hit the IC in the last 20 years or so, and one we completely support. IC ITE will allow us to operate more as a community, as well as more efficiently using fewer IT resources. The efficiencies realized will enable savings that can be reinvested to preserve our mission and our capabilities. IC ITE will enable integrated intelligence collection, analysis and sharing through an innovative, robust and secure IT environment.
Q: What is NRO’s strategy for responding to budget cuts?
A: NRO always strives to preserve the mission capabilities so important to our users and the NRO workforce critical to providing those mission capabilities. We take on budget challenges the same way we take on operational challenges—by harnessing the innovative spirit and the technical talents of the NRO government/ contractor team. NRO met a recent significant budget reduction by designing a more capable, resilient and affordable future architecture, enabled by technical advancements matured through our advanced research and development program. We have also achieved efficiencies through different contract strategies and buying approaches, and by consolidating IT.
Q: NRO recently racked up a string of clean audits. What effects have you seen from this achievement?
A: NRO has certainly enjoyed operational and financial success over the last several years. In addition to the success of our 2012 launch campaign—four launches in five months—we also received our fourth consecutive clean independent audit. Four in a row is an impressive accomplishment by the men and women of NRO. This achievement has set us apart as a leader in financial management in the IC, and increased our credibility with those who oversee us.
We have also partnered with NGA on its new financial management system, GEOINT-Financials. This was a tremendous undertaking and truly a win-win situation for both organizations. For NGA, the effort modernized its financial systems, provided better information for decision-making, and laid the foundation to help achieve its goal of auditability. For NRO, this joint endeavor allowed us to test and further improve our financial management practices, and to strengthen our collaboration with NGA, one of our closest IC partners.
Q: How would you describe your approach to evolutionary acquisition [EA], and is that approach itself evolving?
A: First, let me say that we believe EA is directly responsible for NRO’s excellent acquisition performance over the past three years. We have been able to keep all our major program acquisitions “in the green” for cost, schedule and performance—a record that we have unfortunately not matched when we’ve used different acquisition strategies. EA encompasses several major tenets, but I’ll mention a few of the most significant. First, by evolving new systems, rather than using a “clean sheet,” we reduce overall acquisition risk and focus our non-recurring investment on new sensors and collection capabilities—not on re-designing the entire spacecraft.
Secondly, when we want to field a higher-risk technical collection capability, we mature that in our R&D program, then as a separate “tech insertion” program that can fly when ready; we do not allow it to slow down, and drive cost, in the main-line satellite acquisition.
Third, we contract for multi-vehicle block buys of spacecraft delivered on regular schedules. This incentivizes the contractor base to think long-term and implement efficient, cost-saving production processes that they wouldn’t do on single vehicle buys.
Using these approaches, we have seen our major programs stabilize, then actually under-run government independent cost estimates. There are other benefits as well. Older satellites procured under EA are more cost-effective to fly since we have the same industrial base of the newer-build vehicles and can leverage those same engineers. In addition, we’ve found that an experienced industrial team can develop cost-effective technical upgrades that can improve performance and often be implemented within existing contracts and funding. That is something “clean sheet” systems do not experience.
Of course, there are times when EA is not appropriate, and NRO does not use this strategy as a “one size fits all.” If a dramatic new technology becomes available, or if a current contractor does not perform well, we will not hesitate to take a different acquisition path.
Q: How are you working to maintain mission assurance [MA] processes in an era of cost cutting?
A: Mission assurance processes are essential to mission success. Budget-constrained environments don’t change the need for MA, but they do encourage us to re-examine our standards and processes to ensure we’ve struck the right balance between risk and cost. Therefore we constantly review our mission assurance standards— our how-to guide for the most critical elements of program development—and modify them where appropriate. Those standards are also tailored by our program managers for each of our acquisition efforts, to ensure the appropriate risk/cost balance for each program. ♦