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21 February 2006

The state of commercial imagery....

Having been involved in the first generation of true high resolution commercial imaging satellite systems, your authors are continually amazed as to the uses which they are now being put. Entire market segments of the industry now exist that few could have ever predicted. The volume of use by academics and think tanks in addressing classic intelligence problems in the open source is one of these.

It is shocking to many to see what previously was the domain of only a few narrow experts now become available at a low price point.

If nothing else, this bodes well for teaching intelligence in the future. No longer does one have to make do as an instructor with a few dozen declassified images from national technical means or low resolution LANDSAT images in order to illustrate difficult problem classes.

Even more interesting is the availability of imagery to support the non-IMINT instructors. The issues of proliferation, denial and deception, and comparative military balance alone have been forever altered by this information now in the public sphere.

By way of example, see the latest article in Imaging Notes looking at the PRC’s nuclear capabilities – including underground facilities.

What happens now for imagery will soon also happen in other collection disciplines. The community is losing its monopoly. The question then becomes, what will sustain their relationships with consumers when they are no longer the exclusive source of certain classes of information?