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Guide to GEOINT Standards
What Standards Support the NSG Architecture?
What Are GEOINT Standards?

Why Do We Need Standards?
Standards are crucial to ensuring the compatibility and interoperability of GEOINT1 data and systems that make up the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG)2 enterprise architecture.  The NSG architecture defines, at varying levels, the operations and systems that are needed, from data collection to dissemination and storage, to produce the GEOINT required by the NSG community.  This architecture is, in essence, a "blueprint" that functionally describes the NSG enterprise and the interconnectivity of its components.

Mature standards and specifications enable the data and service interoperability required in the context of an NSG Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).  The use of universally accepted and agreed upon standards ensures that NSG system components within this architecture do what they are required to do and are integrated in a way that allows GEOINT to be exchanged between them.  Standards also ensure that GEOINT data is in a form that can be understood by all the varied users and systems.

What Standards Support the NSG Architecture?
Standards are needed to support all aspects of the NSG architecture.  Two key types of standards that make up the foundation of the NSG enterprise architecture are Information Technology (IT) and GEOINT standards.

IT standards define how IT systems work and interact with one another.  They define the operating system and network interfaces, services and protocols.  The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is the designated Executive Agent for IT standards, with the responsibility to formally select and adopt IT standards for use across the Department of Defense (DoD).

GEOINT standards focus on GEOINT data and its structures.  The NGA has been assigned functional management responsibility for ensuring the selection and adoption of GEOINT standards for the NSG.

What Are GEOINT Standards?
GEOINT standards support specific elements of the NSG architecture and represent approximately 25% of all the standards relevant to the architecture.  They are formally defined as documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics to ensure that materials, products, processes, or services are fit for the analysis and visual representation of physical features and geographically referenced activities.

GEOINT standards characterize GEOINT data, data constructs, data services, products, and interfaces.  They enable the collection, processing, analysis, and exploitation of GEOINT.  They also govern GEOINT access, dissemination, and storage.  The use of common GEOINT standards reduces the use of multiple and incompatible sets of data and makes it possible to create and share suitable, accurate, comprehensive, and timely GEOINT.

Examples of various types of GEOINT standards are shown in Figure 1.

Types of GEOINT Standards

  • GEOINT metadata
  • Still/motion imagery content/format
  • Sensor modeling  
  • Geographic feature encoding
  • Feature data dictionaries/catalogs
  • Geographic portrayal
  • Geospatial referencing
  • Information transfer
  • Data compression
  • GEOINT reporting
  • GEOINT product specifications
  • GEOINT web services
Figure 1: GEOINT Standards

As NSG functional manager for GEOINT, the NGA recen As NSG functional manager for GEOINT, the NGA recently endorsed a suite of web services and other standards developed by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC®).   This suite of OGC® standards, along with other standards adopted into the DoD IT Standards Registry (DISR), comprise the current NSG GEOINT Standards Baseline.  Standards are added to the baseline as they are matured, approved, and implemented across the NSG.  Key standards that compose the NSG GEOINT Standards Baseline are shown in Figure 2.

Key Standards in the NSG GEOINT Standards Baseline

       OGC® Standards

  • Web Features Service (WFS)
  • Web Map Service (WMS)
  • Web Map Context (WMC)
  • Web Coverage Service (WCS)
  • Geography Markup language (GML)
  • Styled Layer Descriptor (SLD)
  • Catalog Services (CS-W)
  • Filter Encoding Specification (FE)

      Other Standards

  • ISO 19115 Geographic Information – Metadata
  • ISO 19119 Geographic Information – Services
  • ISO/IEC 15444-1:2004  Information Technology -- JPEG 2000 image coding system: Core coding system
  • NSG Feature Data Dictionary (NFDD)
  • NSG Entity Catalog (NEC)
Figure 2: GEOINT Standards Baseline

Who Develops GEOINT Standards?
The GEOINT standards that support the NSG architecture come from a variety of private sector and government standards bodies.   Adopted national and international standards are used whenever feasible in order to reduce reliance on government developed standards.  This prevents the development of unnecessary and costly government standards that may be duplicative of existing commercial standards.  A few of the key standards bodies whose work is important to the advancement of GEOINT include:

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee 211 (TC211), Geographic information/Geomatics - established to address the needs of standardization in the field of digital geographic information.

Defence Geospatial Information Working Group (DGIWG)
- an international coalition standards forum, comprised of defence organizations of member nations, established to address standards that enable the exchange and exploitation of geospatial data between defence communities, in particular standards that enhance the interoperability of NATO and coalition forces.

InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) L1 - Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – certified by the American National Standard Institute, L1 develops and adopts digital geographic data standards that apply to the unique requirements of geographic information systems.  L1 also advances American National Standards into the international arena by proposing work items in ISO/TC211. 

Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC®)
- an international industry consortium of 369 companies, government agencies and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available interface standards. OGC® contributes standards and specifications that promote the interoperability of geospatial data and systems. OGC develops and tests open (publicly available) interface standards that can be supported by Standards-based Commercial-off-the-Shelf (SCOTS) software packages.

Open consensus-based standards are being used throughout the U.S. government to enable and enhance the ability to share valuable information and data with national, international, industry, and academic partners.  NGA and the NSG community actively participate in these and other government and non-government standards development bodies in order to ensure NSG requirements for GEOINT are met in the standards being developed.

How Are GEOINT Standards Implemented?
Implementation of the right GEOINT standards follows a process that begins with defining requirements that articulate the need for specific GEOINT functionality and capabilities.  Standards requirements are also identified during enterprise architecture development activities.  Standards that can potentially fulfill these requirements are identified and analyzed to determine which are most appropriate for selection.  Standards applicability, along with the standards source, its development status, its degree of market place support, costs, and identified risks are all taken into consideration when selecting the right GEOINT standards to use.

GEOINT standards that have been selected for use in the enterprise architecture are documented in the Technical Standards View (TV) of the architecture.  The TV is composed of the Technical Standards Profile (TV-1) and the Technical Standards Forecast (TV-2).  In addition to GEOINT standards, the TV-1 and TV-2 include IT, security, and other standards.  The TV-1 is the overall base line of standards used when selecting standards to meet the requirements of specific systems acquisition and development activities.

The selection of existing high level abstract standards in existing and new systems does not end the need for standards development.  To effectively implement existing standards, their application most often requires further adaptation of the standard to the specific capability desired.  The development of implementation profiles3 and reference implementations4 are often required to fully implement the standard.

GEOINT standards are ultimately implemented through systems acquisition and engineering processes.  These processes include the selection of applicable standards for specific contracts (contract standards profiles) and may necessitate the development of implementation profiles of abstract standards, reference implementations, and implementation guidelines.

Standards and systems testing and verification are also important components of standards implementation.  Conducting standards compliance testing is critical to ensuring project reliability and performance and the achievement of full interoperability.   

How Are GEOINT Standards Managed?
The Director of NGA is assigned functional management responsibilities related to mandating GEOINT standards in the NSG community and representing the NSG community in standards development organizations. (DoD Directive 5105.60).  The National Center for Geospatial Intelligence Standards (NCGIS), the Geospatial Intelligence Standards Working Group (GWG), the Defense Standardization Program (DSP), and the NGA Standard Board (NASB) are the key governance organizations that play a role in carrying out these responsibilities.

The National Center for Geospatial Intelligence Standards (NCGIS)
The NCGIS was established as an entity within NGA in 2002 in order to create a cohesive GEOINT Standards Program to carry out NGA’s functional management responsibilities for GEOINT.   The mission of the NCGIS is to effectively manage GEOINT standards activities across the NSG community and within NGA itself by promoting the development, implementation and management of GEOINT and other related standards that enable optimum system and data interoperability.  Where possible, the NCGIS fosters the development and use of community developed consensus-based standards to achieve these interoperability goals.

Key responsibilities of the NCGIS include:

  • Participation as subject matter experts, representing NSG interests in the standards development efforts of organizations such as ISO, DGIWG, American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and OGC® to ensure that GEOINT community requirements are incorporated into key interoperability standards and specifications, such as those for metadata, geospatial features/attributes, and web services.
  • Leading and providing secretariat support for the Geospatial Intelligence Standards Working Group (GWG) and its subject related focus groups (see below for more on the GWG).  The NCGIS, with GWG, leads standards development activities, such as for the GEOINT Structure Implementation profile (GSIP), which defines a common method for specifying and encoding GEOINT and related data.
  • Leading and providing secretariat support for the NGA Architecture Standards Board (NASB) and the NASB Task Force (see below for more on the NASB).
  • Interfacing with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on standards initiatives that support the Intelligence Community (IC).
  • Advancing the implementation of GEOINT standards through the creation and support of ongoing standards initiatives, like the NGA Interoperability Action Team (NIAT), which is identifying the standards and metadata required to support GEOINT sensor systems capabilities. 
  • Promoting, in coordination with other NGA corporate entities, the development of additional standards profiles and reference implementations that are required in the NSG-wide systems development efforts of NGA.
  • Conducting the NSG Standards Testing Program to develop and execute plans for conformance and interoperability testing of GEOINT standards.  The NCGIS is working with the NSG community to establish a validation methodology (shown in Figure 3 below) that includes dissemination of test activity results.  Standards compliance testing is a necessary step to achieving full systems and data interoperability.  

Figure 3: GEOINT Standards Validation Methodology

The program direction for all NCGIS standards activities aligns with higher level standards and enterprise systems policies and strategic objectives that are defined and mandated across the DoD, IC, and U.S. government.  Figure 4 identifies some of the key policy and strategic mandates driving GEOINT standards activities.

Figure 4: Policies and Strategies That Guide GEOINT Standards Activities

The Geospatial Intelligence Standards Working Group (GWG)
The GWG was formed as a GEOINT Community of Interest (COI) to bring DoD, Intelligence, federal civil, industry, and academic partners together to develop and agree on the GEOINT standards to adopt for mutual use.  GWG membership currently consists of 26 Core member agencies that represent the military, intelligence and civil U.S. government and 10 Associate member organizations consisting of coalition partners, standards development organizations, and industry consortia.

Chaired by the Director, NCGIS, the GWG is made up of thematic focus groups that tackle standardization issues related to metadata, geospatial features and their portrayal, still and motion imagery, and information transfer and data services needed for posting, discovery, access, and analysis of GEOINT data stores.  NCGIS personnel chair and participate in various focus groups, as well as provide the Secretariat support that keeps the GWG functioning.

The GWG is chartered within the broader Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC).  The ITSC is overseen by the DISA, and its primary goal is to incorporate IT and GEOINT standards into the DISR.  The DISR is a single, unifying DoD registry for approved information technology (IT) and national security systems (NSS) standards and standards profiles.  Mandated standards contained in the DISR must be used in future systems development efforts within the DoD.

As a technical working group of the ITSC, the GWG is responsible for identifying and recommending a set of GEOINT designated standards for inclusion into the DISR.  Following ITSC defined processes and timelines, the GWG and its focus groups identify and evaluate candidate GEOINT standards, evaluate existing DISR standards for their continued relevance, develop community recommendations, and vote on DISR change requests related to GEOINT standards.

The GWG also functions as a community forum for the vetting of NSG specific GEOINT standards and standards profiles developed by the NGA.  GWG focus groups and standards subject matter experts provide requirements and development support to these NGA initiated and sponsored activities.  The GWG also provides a community mechanism by which the NCGIS carries out the specific standards responsibilities assigned to the NGA by the Defense Standardization Program.

Defense Standardization Program (DSP)

The NCGIS administers responsibilities assigned to the NGA by the DSPThe DSP is the authority that oversees the development and maintenance of approved DoD unique standards, also referred to as military standards and specifications.  NGA has been assigned the Lead Standardization Activity (LSA) for Geospatial Intelligence Technology (GINT) by the DSP.  NCGIS personnel oversee the set of GINT standards and specifications, such as Vector Product Format (MIL-PRF-32118) and Digital Nautical Chart (MIL-PRF-89023), following DSP standard operating procedures for the development, approval, and publication of these standards.

The GWG plays a role in the DSP governing process by providing a community mechanism by which the NCGIS can vet GINT standards, as required by DSP operating procedures.  DSP approved standards are available from the Acquisition Streamlining and Standardization Information System (ASSIST), the official source for all DoD unclassified standards, specifications, and handbooks.

NGA Architecture Standards Board (NASB)

The NASB is an internal NGA standards governance body that is chaired by the Director, NCGIS and whose membership consists of NGA’s Chief Architect, Deputy Chief Information Officer, the Technical Executives of NGA Directorates, and Directors and Advisors from NGA’s Command Element offices.  The NASB Task Force, consisting of standards subject matter experts across the NGA, carries out many of the NASB’s actions.  The NCGIS provides leadership and support to many NASB/NASB Task Force activities.

The NASB coordinates all standards activities taking place within NGA, addressing those standards that are required to achieve the desired capabilities in NGA’s systems development efforts.  In addition to resolving issues related to GEOINT standards, the NASB also addresses issues related to other standards relevant to the NSG architecture, such as IT and security standards.

Under the auspices of the NASB, the standards to be listed in the TV-1 and TV-2 are identified and approved.  The NASB also identifies NGA requirements for standards implementation profiles, addresses standards issues that arise, formulates NGA standards positions on internal and external standards issues, and promotes standards compliance in the enterprise systems developed by NGA.  

While the NASB operates as an internal NGA governance body, coordinating mechanisms are in place between the NASB and the GWG.  The NASB provides NGA voting representation to the GWG.  NCGIS personnel, from their leadership roles in the GWG and as standards subject matter experts, bring GWG community requirements to bear in NASB decision making.

                                                  For More Information
  • Geospatial Intelligence Standards – Enabling A Common Vision: available at https://www1.nga.mil/ProductsServices/geointstandards/Documents/NCGIS%20Roadmap/ncgis-eb.pdf
  • OGC® specifications: http://www.opengeospatial.org

1 Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) - a specialized discipline within the defense and intelligence communities.  GEOINT is made up of 3 key elements: geospatial information, imagery, and imagery intelligence.  It is defined in Title 10 U.S. Code 467 as: the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the earth.

2 National Systems for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) - broadly defined as “…the combination of technology, policies, capabilities, doctrine, activities, people, data, and communities necessary to produce geospatial intelligence in an integrated multi-intelligence, multi-domain environment. (NSG Statement of Strategic Intent, March 2007)  The NSG Community consists of members of the Intelligence community, Military Departments and agencies, Joint Staff, and Combatant Commands, along with civil, international, industry, and academic partners.

3 Implementation Profile -- detailed guidance that is written for a single standard or a group of standards that provides guidance on which portions of the standard(s) are to be applied and how.

4 Reference Implementation -- an approved/selected exemplar of a software module or service that is conformant to an implementation profile and is available for reuse by developers in their own instantiations of the function or service.

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