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National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Ensures Aircrews “Fly with Confidence”

By MS. BRITTANY OLSON, Staff Writer

WHAT IS THE MISSION OF NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL-INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (NGA) AERO?

“To provide timely, relevant, validated, and accessible worldwide aeronautical foundational Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT), to enable Safety of Navigation, DoD Military Operations, and Support National Security Objectives”

33.3 Million Vertical Obstructions (VOs) Collected

13 Thousand Aircraft Supported

4 Thousand Airfields with Airfield Foundation Data (Vectors)

30 Thousand Aero App Users

10 Thousand DoD, USG, and Allied Users

260 Working Relationships

NGA Aero is the leading provider of aeronautical data for the DoD. The agency directly supports DoD national security objectives and assists military pilots as they navigate from point A to point B. It is one of five internationally certified data providers in the world with the highest level of authorization, and it produces the most accurate aeronautical data on Earth. Unlike its commercial counterparts, NGA Aero has access to the intelligence collected by NGA to validate its aviation procedures, permitting for a level of verification not offered outside of the DoD.

The agency leverages data gathered from geospatial intelligence and disseminates the information as safety navigation products. For example, there are 33.3 million vertical obstructions worldwide, such as wind turbines and towers that pose grave flight hazards. Analysts maintain vertical obstruction and airfield data on 48,000 airfields to optimize the efficiency of military operations and navigation safety.

NGA Aero generates an estimated 14.7 million flight information publications annually including en route charts, maps, terminal books, 48,000 instrument flight procedures for departure and approach, and flight planning documents. NGA Aero exchanges aeronautical data with 120 different countries worldwide and data are updated by 280 analysts on a 28-day cycle to guarantee relevancy.

NGA Aero has a long-standing partnership with AMC. AMC’s digital flight database used for flight mission planning is integrated with NGA Aero’s database as it relies heavily on geospatial intelligence for each operational phase from mission planning to landing. NGA Aero liaisons also work on site at AMC and communicate with program managers from both agencies to procure time-sensitive, mission-based information on imagery, procedures, status of airfields, and airfield foundation information.

NGA Aero analysts aggregate geospatial data from around the world and produce air information that translates into a language AMC Airmen understand. During flight training, NGA Aero products are integrated into daily flight preparation both on the ground and in the air. AMC Airmen are taught how to use NGA products and interpret the information so that it becomes second nature. By the end of their training, pilots are adept at utilizing NGA products to fly an instrument approach that has been complicated by inclement weather conditions or to identify a single point in space that is the initial point on a refueling track.

NGA Aero Tradecraft Manager and former AMC pilot, Gonzalo Reyna explained the extent to which AMC pilots rely on NGA Aero for accurate, relevant information:

“Being an AMC guy for 17 of my 20 years in the military, I grew up with NGA products and flew with them every time we took off in the aircraft and used them as a basis to mission plan. I knew it was safe to the point I trusted my life to the data because a lot of times we would operate at night or operate in weather where I could not see what was going on around me. The only information I had was what I could read on my altimeter, land-based navigation aid feedback, and the data NGA provided.”

To meet the needs of the DoD in the 21st century, NGA Aero is undergoing its largest transformation from legacy products to data-centric products. There is also a mandate by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to have aircraft-enabled Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) data and products by 2022 and 2024, respectively.

To maximize production processes and meet the statutory requirements of ICAO and FAA, NGA Aero must implement new databases, equipment, and processes. By 2023, rather than having a paper product and a matching computerized data set, the components will become one in the same. Individual data elements, such as a waypoint, will no longer just be a waypoint in terms of an air route. Instead, they will have associated times when they are active with altitudes and headings. With the additional information provided by data elements, aircraft will be able to fly several points across the country without the pilot communicating with an air traffic controller and aircraft will be able to safely fly in closer proximity to one another.

“The Mobility fleet is leading the way in accepting and flying with PBN data. A lot of it is the types of global missions that AMC performs each day,” explained NGA Aero Office Director and former Naval aviator and Air Force U-2 pilot, Col Shane McDonald. AMC’s new fleet of KC-46 aircraft are equipped with the latest PBN-enabled equipment. The KC-46 will operate exclusively from NGA Aero data as it is the very first Boeing aircraft with the ability to process NGA Aero’s Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File (DAFIF). Other aircraft in AMC’s fleet, however, will require some upgrades to process PBN-enabled data. C-5s and C-17s for example, currently use NGA data but will require future upgrades. NGA Aero and AMC are working in a joint effort to guarantee that present and future flight management systems aboard the C-5 and C-17 fleets are PBN-enabled before the transition.

In closing, Reyna emphasized the tremendous amount of work that goes into keeping the data current and accurate. He said, “Now that I work for NGA, I have a better understanding of what it takes to provide the data. It is a lot of work and can be intense at times. Our leadership and analysts understand it is a no fail mission.”