NGA and Mongolia Map New Horizons

By Margaret Jorgensen and Chuck Boyer

Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of Pathfinder, published by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Due to Mongolia's strategic location, NGA's geospatial requirements in the region, and the Department of Defense's increasing activity in the region, NGA has been actively working with the young democracy for the exchange of geospatial products and services. Since NGA first entered into an exchange and cooperative agreement with Mongolia in 2004, its relations with their government have grown to include Mongolia's Ministry of Construction and Urban Development, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Mongolia, the National Emergency Management Agency, and the Border Protection General Board of Mongolia.

Mongolia is considered by some to be a vibrant, if fragile, democracy that has accomplished much in the past two decades since its almost 70 years under communism. With its large land mass, small population, and numerous natural resources, Mongolia's economy grew at an annual rate of 8.6 percent last year. It is strategically positioned between Russia and China and is touted as an outstanding global citizen, as evidenced by its status as a nuclear weapons-free zone and strong support of international peacekeeping efforts. Mongolia provides peacekeeping support in Afghanistan and Iraq, and since 2002, also regularly rotates its troops to United Nations missions in Africa (Sierra Leone) and the Balkans (Kosovo). Furthermore, Mongolia continues to host the Khaan Quest, an annual multinational peacekeeping exercise that has up to 30 different countries participating or observing.

How NGA Benefits
Detailed gravity and elevation data over Mongolia are helping NGA's GEOINT Sciences Office develop a highly accurate geoid model, the vertical reference surface that closely approximates mean sea level over the continents. In addition to conducting airborne gravity surveys in Mongolia, an absolute gravity survey of five diverse sites throughout the country was conducted that assisted NGA in maintaining World Geodetic System 84, the global horizontal reference system. All of these efforts work together to provide improved geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) support to NGA's customers, especially in the areas of precision inertial navigation and low-earth orbit modeling. NGA has also received Mongolia's geographic names database and copies of the latest 1:50,000-scale map products of the Five Hills Training Center in Mongolia, which were created using NGA source data.

Payoff for Mongolia
A precise geoid model benefits the Mongolians, too, as it allows them to properly reference vertical feature data. Furthermore, four Mongolian agencies received loaned geographic information system (GIS) workstations from NGA that will give them a basic digital geospatial analysis and exploitation capability. Additional training will aid them in creating products that meet NGA standards and specifications.

In June 2007, Chuck Boyer, an International Affairs and Policy staff officer, led an NGA delegation of seven employees to Mongolia. They met with NGA's four most recent agreement partners plus Mongolia's National Defense University, the State Police, the General Intelligence Agency, and the Civil Aviation Authority. Accomplishments of the visit ranged from discussing additional cooperative projects, checking on the status of the GIS workstations that are on loan from NGA, conducting GeoNames (geographic names) training, and holding initial discussions about a safety of flight navigation Memorandum of Understanding. A highlight of the visit, and one that shows the value the Mongolians place on their relationship with NGA, was the presentation of the "Leading Expert in Land Affairs in Mongolia" award to Steve Kenyon, of NGA's GEOINT Sciences Office, by Mongolia's Minister of Construction and Urban Development. This was the first time this award was ever bestowed on a foreign national.

What's Next
In fiscal year 2008, NGA plans to conduct a gravity survey in an extremely remote and void area of northern Mongolia, which will continue to improve the geoid and provide improved topographic modeling of the country. Other potential projects being considered include geographic names and training. NGA's relations with Mongolia continue to progress, coinciding with Department of Defense and State Department increased activities in the area.

Published Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Written by Margaret Jorgensen and Chuck Boyer

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