Exploiting a geospatial information revolution
By Tony Skinner
The asymmetric nature of current military operations has seen the demand for - and subsequent collection of - vast amounts of actionable intelligence on a previously unimaginable scale.
The battlefield commander's information requirements have changed dramatically in recent years - a trend fuelled by the continued drive towards a measure of network-centric operations and the resultant reduced decision cycles, linking of battlefield entities and sharing of information among all players.
With some 65 per cent of all information on the battlefield in some way geo-referenced, geographic information systems (GIS) have started to become a prime conduit for the sharing of actionable data.
Speaking at the WBR Defence Geospatial Intelligence conference in London in January, retired brigadier Nick Rigby, former director of intelligence, collection strategy and plans for the UK Ministry of Defence, said that the geospatial intelligence discipline had become a key enabler in network- or information-centric operations.
"First of all, what do I mean by the term 'geospatial intelligence'? For me it is the melding of geospatial information [that of data and products] across the spectrum of the -ologies and -ographies with the intelligence disciplines to deliver a capability greater than the sum of the constituent parts - a means of visualising the instance, situation or forecasting the same," said Rigby, who is now a non-executive director with ESRI UK.
Rigby said that, while geographic information served as the foundation, true geospatial intelligence took a wider focus and melded information from the land, sea and air environments with the intelligence disciplines of human intelligence, imagery intelligence and measurement and signature intelligence.
"Simplified, it is all about situational awareness via a recognised environmental picture - but it is also more than that. Geospatial intelligence provides the foundation for the JOP [joint operations picture] or the COP [common operating picture]; it is not just geographic information," Rigby told Jane's.
The advantages provided by modern geographic information systems are clear. With the irregular, asymmetric threat of the current focus of military planners and operations increasingly in the urban environment, GIS applications help reduce decision cycles and speed up response times and precision.
"In the US this is increasingly referred to as 'human terrain' - the mapping of the social, cultural and temporal aspects of a society. This causes a demand for more non-traditional data for use in geospatial analysis, leading to the routing of convoys to avoid schools and mosques, for example," said Rigby.
This requires a means to analyse and quickly disseminate the vast amounts of data collected by the intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance assets that are now available in theatre to operational commanders. In Afghanistan, for example, UK forces currently operate the Hermes 450 tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Desert Hawk tactical UAV and the Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance UAV in a three-tiered model.
To avoid being drowned in the resultant information, a premium has been placed on systems with sophisticated data storage, data mining and recovery techniques that allow staff to be fed only the information that is relevant to their current mission without depriving them of key facts.509 of 1,649 words
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