Jeffrey LewisFIA Autopsy

Phillip Taubman recently had a masterful account of the death of the Future Imagery Architecture in the New York Times.

Given the myriad myriad engineering and managerial disasters, the demise of FIA was probably overdetermined. If I had to pick just one cause, though, I suppose I would say the requirements were unrealistic given the available money, technology and expertise.

When I blogged about the impending demise of the FIA program
in August 2005, I linked to a Boeing job announcement for a “senior systems engineer” on the project.

I joked that readers might consider applying “you know, if your resume includes ‘Miracle worker’ …”

Heather Wilson (R-NM) brings that little snarky comment full circle by articulating a golden rule for space system acquisition in Taubman’s article:

“There‚Äôs a good rule on projects like this,” said Representative Heather A. Wilson, a New Mexico Republican on the Intelligence Committee. “Aim for only one miracle per program.”

For more backstory on the program, see my post dated 9 December 2004


  1. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Great breakthroughs come in package deals with great disasters.

    One of the reason the United States have had so many great breakthroughs is there have been so many great failures.

    However, the people who failed by and large, lived to tell about it and often, tried again. Contrast this with social-political-economic systems that are unforgiving, where the failures are treated with sanctions that go all the way up to execution, and you see one of the reason why the world has things to learn from the United States.

    That is not to say the US is perfect in this regard. Tolerance and respect for divergent views is disappointingly low (e.g. Joseph Wilson), and failure is sometimes treated with hostility that is reminiscent of witch trials (e.g. Pons and Fleischman).

    In this perspective, perhaps the people who led the failed FIA program should be given a word of thanks, for they did try, and tried hard.

  2. Bruce Klingner (History)

    One can debate whether the Intelligence Community should have: continued the old-style but safe technology of big imagery satellites; gone for smaller, more agile but technologically challenging FIA; or had a mix to push the envelope safely (but expensively). But, the bottom line of the FIA failure is that the aging imagery constellation of satellites (already at marginal capacities EVEN before the FIA was begun) will have significant gaps in coverage/capabilities that will impact US ability to support military operations; monitor current/potential hotspots; and monitor any Six Party Talks agreement.

  3. andrew koch (History)

    While a nice history, the peice fails to mention that FIA isnt really dead…its true that the Optical portion was taken away from Boeing and given back to Lockheed, but Boeing kept the radar portion and is still trying to fix it. And, shockingly, its running yet another $1B over cost and another year behind what has been publicly acknowledged…in just a few years the IC may be very happy indeed to have commercial providers to fall back on even more than they are already doing