NRO budget justification sheds light on IT projects

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A recently revealed National Reconnaissance Office budget document refers to "problems affecting acquisition performance," which the agency is trying to address by improving program manager visibility and accountability, clarifying lines of authority and developing risk management strategies.

"The ability to immediately react to the dynamic environment of acquisition is critical," according to NRO's fiscal 2011 budget justification (.pdf). The document also notes that "financial flexibility has been lost due to a steady proliferation of budget control lines, more restrictive reprogramming limits, and greater external involvement in resource decisions."

A redacted version of the budget justification offers a glimpse into the highly-secretive agency and its similarly veiled budget. The document was obtained May 23 through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists.

The agency supports the intelligence community and Defense Department by designing, building, launching and maintaining intelligence satellites--what NRO terms "vigilance from above." According to the NRO justification, its satellites provide services in three broad categories: Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and communications (COMM).

Many of the numbers in the NRO budget justification are redacted, but the total budget may near $10 billion, Aftergood estimates in a blog post. The only projects where budget numbers are even mentioned is "Launch Vehicles" and "Enterprise IT":

  • "Launch Vehicle Advanced Plans: +$31.1 million, +7 military positions. Increase due to transfer of Advanced Plans from Launch Operations and Engineering project and additional funding to implement IC Launch Study recommendations."
  • "Heavy Lift Performance Upgrade: -$23.9 million. Decrease due to the decrease in upgrade activity. FY 2011 is the last year of this upgrade program."
  • "Enterprise Systems: +$1.4 million."

Some of the major projects in the NRO budget include: GEOINT Electro-Optical and Next Generation Electro-Optical, GEOINT Radar and Radar Integration & Support, SIGINT Low and Low Altitude Integration & Support, SIGINT High and High Altitude Integration & Support, GEOINT/SIGINT Integrated Ground Development and Mission Framework, and Mission Ground Stations. 

While redactions were present, the Research and Technology, and Enterprise IT sections of the budget justification are surprisingly revelatory.

Within Research and Technology, the document mentions programs called the Director's Innovation Initiative and the Innovative Solutions Initiative.

"The DIT solicitation provides unclassified access to revolutionary R&D concepts and provides risk-tolerant environment to invest in cutting edge technologies and high-payoff concepts relevant to the NRO's mission. The ISI is a classified solicitation that explores new and innovative ideas, concepts, technologies, and methods that will provide the nation and the IC with actionable intelligence to solve current and enduring problems." The section also outlines many focus areas for NRO R&D including next generation high-efficiency solar cells, complete phased array prototype antenna testing and carbon nanotube memory/logic applications.

Enterprise IT goals appear to primarily focus on network security and connectivity in order to share NRO information with intelligence community and Defense Department partners. Notable is a goal to "migrate to a unified management information system platform to support unclassified, secret/collateral, and Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCl) enterprise environments" in fiscal 2011. An information assurance program is also thoroughly outlined in the document as a fiscal 2011 goal that will create an "enterprise vulnerability management program" and more "efficient certification and accreditation."

Two interesting program names were also declassified in the document: Ardent Gunslinger and Puppet Master.

Ardent Gunslinger is a "three tiered replacement next generation CORE backbone replacing existing ATM network utilizing IP [redacted] technology to replace the aging ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] Core infrastructure and to align with industry standards." Puppet Master is the replacement to the Future Architecture for Command and Telemetry Services (FACTS), which replaced unsupportable legacy network equipment.

For more:
- see the NRO fiscal 2011 budget justification (.pdf)
- and see the NRO fiscal 2010 budget justification retrieved by FOIA

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