Kent's Imperative discusses the value of privatization and unmanned systems for geographic intelligence, or GEOINT (see Tanji for def's of like terms). I agree with Kent on his points that privatization adds surge capacity (just as the airline industry does for strategic transport under federal law) and innovation. There are limits, as we both agree, but that's for another post.
Not so long (chronologically) but an eternity (in terms of privatization concepts) ago, the first generation of high resolution commercial space based imagery systems for intelligence came into existence...The very idea of private sector capabilities usurping the government monopoly on overhead systems was so unthinkable for many within the community that had the Long War not gone hot and every second of imaging capacity been desperately needed, we might never have seen the development of the industry – let alone the remarkable directions that it has trended towards in the hands of the Google / Keyhole team.
At the dawn of its earliest, hard fought, and tentative acceptance, another new technology was emerging. Unlike the expensive and arcane world of satellites, the UAV offered an immediate, accessible, and understandable tool to the community. More importantly, it was a technology they could directly control throughout its full life-cycle – and that is critical to a certain kind of procurement and operations mindset.
Needless to say, the UAV has been a Very Good Thing for the GEOINT community – and at the same time, opened new frontiers in the mix between collection, analysis and warfighting. But these systems largely remain dedicated to looking at the battlespace through a soda straw. It is for that reason that many of the proponents of imagery intelligence continue to dismiss the idea that UAV’s will ever compete with the better resourced national technical means – or even their commercial imaging counterparts – in providing theatre-level and strategic IMINT.