Monday, September 13, 2010

Gen Carlson speaks on current state of NRO

Major Mekesha Armstrong gave a highlight of an afternoon presentation by Gen Bruce A. Carlson, USAF (Ret.), National Reconnaissance Office Director, who gave an update on the current state of NRO.

Gen Carlson opened up his speech discussing the fiftieth anniversary of the National Reconnaissance Office, asking the audience to think about how far space requirements and expectations have come. When CORONA started fifty years ago, crews were successfully “catching” film canisters with no computer guidance or inertial navigation systems, and early on many missions failed. Now we have obtained a launch success rate of more than 90% with little forgiveness for mission failure during a challenging time. The NRO is launching five rockets in the next eight months - the most aggressive schedule since the 1980s, with 50% of the people and 25% of the infrastructure they had in the 1980s.

The NRO’s charter, updated to reflect the agreement between the Central Intelligence Agency and Air Force, is ready for signature by the DNI and SecDef and should be out in a few weeks. Gen Carlson reports that this charter will give the MDA authority back to the Direction, NRO, for his programs. Additionally, it will give the NRO the ability to call a meeting with the SecDef and National Security office to ensure the requirements from each line up so the NRO can acquire systems that meet each agency’s taskings most efficiently.

Gen Carlson listed his priorities: execute launch on time and on budget, improve business of launch, improve research and technology investment, and invest in the NRO workforce. Since Gen Carlson began working on his priorities, the NRO is now on time and on budget for 9.5 of 10 programs. To improve the business of launch, he is willing to allow DoD to negotiate rocket purchases for NRO. Instead of the NRO, DoD and NASA negotiating for rockets separately, he feels it would benefit all three organizations to have one party do all negotiations to get more rockets at a better price. Gen Carlson is also working to bring historic research and development (R&D) funding levels back to the NRO and has several programs in place to keep quality people in key positions long enough to benefit the program but not damage their career.

To make the next leap into ISR data tasking, collecting, processing, exploitation and dissemination --- the NRO is working to integrate different mission ground/processing systems to deliver a single product to the warfighter in a short period of time. Recently, the NRO has made improvements to ground systems to improve geolocation by an order of magnitude, “…innovation on the ground – teaching old satellites new tricks.”

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