The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) much anticipated Next NGA West facility may not be coming to a St. Clair County site, just north of Scott Air Forces Base (AFB), as county officials hoped.
However, once completed, the $1.7 billion, high-tech spy complex will be run by officers stationed at Scott AFB, officials revealed during a Dec. 13 news conference.
“The U.S. Air Force is the property owner of the Next NGA West project,” a post on the Next NGA West website (nextngawest.com) explains.
“Once the Next NGA West construction project is completed the new facility and property will fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force and will be managed by officials based at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois,” the statement on the web site continues.
Headquartered in Springfield, Va., the NGA is charged with providing geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to federal policymakers, the U.S. military, the American intelligence community and civilian-sector first responders.
The agency’s technology is even used in cellphone navigation.
Representing the largest single federal investment ever in the St. Louis area, the 712,000-square-foot Next NGA West will immediately employ around 2,000 people upon its anticipated opening in 2024. It then is expected to increase markedly in size and employment over the ensuing years and attract considerable support industry to its surrounding St. Louis Park neighborhood.
The new facility will effectively replace the agency’s 100-year-old defense mapping facility in South St. Louis.
Much of the agency’s work is classified. Little detailed information has been released on the operations slatted for Next NGA West.
However, in various presentations over recent years, NGA Director Robert Cardillo has indicated the new facility will be the central data gathering and processing point for a vast, new, worldwide network of small intelligence-gathering satellites.
The information collected will then be made available to both government and private-sector clients.
The Dec. 13 news conference was held to mark the official transfer of title to the 97-acre Next NGA West site from the City of St. Louis to the Air Force.
Conference materials do indicate which of the various Air Force commands, with headquarters or facilities at Scott AFB, will be in charge of Next NGA West.
Scott AFB — originally an Air Force training station and dirigible hub — has, over the past decade, emerged as a major cyber-intelligence center.
The Defense Information Systems Agency, which operates the U.S. Department of Defense’s information systems, opened its $100 million Global Operations Command center on the base in 2016.
The base is also home to five cybersecurity squadron — three of which were transferred to the base in 2014. Those three alone employ around 300 people.
An NGA memo uncovered by the Belleville News Democrat indicates the agency initially intended to move its aging South St. Louis defense mapping facility to Scott AFB. However, federal procurement procedures required the agency to investigate alternative sites.
A consortium, led by St. Louis area developer Paul McKee and backed by Bank of Washington CEO L. B. Eckelkamp, Jr., ultimately convinced the NGA to choose a site in North St. Louis; citing the location’s designation as a federal Promise Zone.
St. Clair County officials had offered a 100-acre tract north of the Air Force base as a location for Next NGA West.
Unspecified in the press conference materials is the exact chain of command for the Next NGA West, which, while located in St. Louis, would apparently have its commanding officers stationed at Scott AFB, but with its agency headquarters in Virginia.
The materials also do not indicate whether some Next NGA West operations, beyond top level management, might be located at Scott or whether cyber security functions, currently located at Scott, might ultimately be transferred to St. Louis.
Listed as partner agencies for the Next NGA West project are the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and Project Connect; a joint effort between the City of St. Louis and the government agencies involved in the project.
As the construction lead, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District will select the primary contractor and award a comprehensive design-build contract. They are also responsible for managing the design, construction and delivery of the Next NGA West facilities.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, (AFCEC) located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas is responsible for providing military installation engineering services, including facility investment planning, design and construction, operations support, real property management, energy support, environmental compliance and restoration, and audit assertions, acquisition and program management.
NAVAIR will provide technical expertise in developing information technology (IT) infrastructure requirements and design solution recommendations in support of Next NGA West.
Illinois 12th District U.S. Rep Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), whose district includes Scott AFB, has introduced legislation effectively calling for the NGA to reassess its selection of the St. Louis location for Next NGA West.
However, Cardillo expressed support for the St. Louis site during the news conference.
“We made a decision in 2016 to locate NGA’s new west campus in North St. Louis, which was the right decision then, and is the right decision now,” said Cardillo.