ORLANDO — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is seeking what it calls innovative means of finding, tracking and cataloging illicit activity in China’s backyard.

The agency, tasked with analyzing overhead imagery, monitoring buildup of foreign materiel and mapping the Earth for military purposes, on May 6 published a commercial solutions opening asking companies to pitch their products for Project Aegir, meant to deepen U.S. understanding of what’s happening around the world.

Ballooning demand for commercial analytics and unclassified intelligence tied to the Indo-Pacific is motivating the move, according to NGA leadership. The region is home to some of the world’s largest militaries, ports and economies, with China increasingly making its presence known. Washington considers Beijing its top threat and has warned of consequences should its global ambitions go uncontested.

Improved maritime domain awareness — a deep understanding of what’s happening on, below, or near the water — is needed, and the private sector holds answers, according to NGA boss Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth. The appetite for imagery and analysis is growing, as showcased by the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.

The Project Aegir solicitation “underscores our commitment to staying ahead of evolving threats and supporting frontline efforts against [illegal, unreported and unregulated] fishing, illicit trafficking, and other activities that pose threats to global security,” Whitworth said in a May 6 speech at the GEOINT conference in Florida.

He later told reporters much of the push came from Adm. John Aquilino, the former head of INDOPACOM. Adm. Samuel Paparo now holds the job.

Outcomes of the project, he added, could prove useful in hot spots such as the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Houthi rebels based in Yemen have for months targeted commercial and military vessels with drone and missile attacks. U.S warships Carney, Gravely, Laboon, Mason and Thomas Hudner have destroyed dozens of overhead threats since October.

Companies interested in the opening have until May 24 to submit responses, after which some will be selected for review by the Defense Innovation Unit. A $1.5 million pilot program could then follow, documents show.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

More In Intel/GEOINT