As the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) explores ways to incorporate commercial satellite imaging technologies, there’s an urgent call to prioritize commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) or risk losing funding to the Department of Defense.

During the GEOINT Symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, Pete Muend, head of the NRO’s commercial space office, highlighted the necessity of embracing a broader spectrum of commercial remote-sensing capabilities, including SAR, to meet the increasing demands from military and intelligence agencies for comprehensive Earth observation data.

Muend announced the initiation of a more flexible contracting strategy designed to absorb advancements from the private remote sensing sector across all types of imagery. This strategic shift aims to enhance the integration of commercial technologies into the government’s overarching satellite architecture, moving away from the NRO’s traditional approach which often concentrated on specific types of imagery.

“The landscape of satellite imagery is evolving, and our adversaries are not waiting for us to catch up,” Muend stressed, emphasizing the strategic need for rapid integration of commercial SAR technologies. “Without a significant push into commercial SAR, we are at risk of falling behind and potentially seeing vital funding redirected to the Department of Defense, which is also advancing its capabilities.”

Plans are in motion to develop a “radar commercial layer,” which would function similarly to the electro-optical commercial layer contracts previously awarded, though possibly on a smaller scale. However, Muend revealed that discussions regarding this are still ongoing within the executive branch.

Brett Scott, who leads the NRO’s Geospatial Intelligence Information Systems Acquisition Directorate, echoed the sentiment on the necessity of adapting acquisition strategies to leverage the commercial sector’s innovation. “It’s about ensuring that we not only keep pace but also drive innovation in a way that benefits national security,” Scott said. “We must properly incentivize industry and ensure that the commercial sector’s pioneering efforts are sustainable and profitable.”

The NRO’s proactive approach to revising its contracting methods indicates a crucial strategic pivot: the agency must intensify its commitment to commercial SAR to maintain its competitive edge and safeguard its funding against potential budget allocations favoring the Department of Defense.


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