Maps are clearly a vital tool for any military commander, but the days when a two-dimensional, printed representation of an area will suffice have long since passed. Dynamic mapping of the battlespace is not new, but 21st century technologies are revolutionizing the collection, dissemination and analysis of tactical intelligence.
At Defense Geospatial Intelligence here in January, the annual conference for the defense and security geoint community, participants mulled technologies and techniques from simple refinements to enable easier comprehension of an area of operations, to radical concepts intended to predict events based on analysis of patterns in fused geolocated data sets.
Col. Mark Burrows, commander of the U.K.’s Joint Aeronautical and Geospatial Organization, explained that recent experience has highlighted crucial areas in which geoint operators have to upgrade their skill sets. “We didn’t really do geospatial business very well in urban areas in the past,” Burrows says. Pointing to a photograph of high-rise tower blocks next to villages, he says it is “the sort of thing we’re going to have to put on a map” but in a way that can be understood. “It’s probably going to be in 3-D, I suspect, especially if you were a helicopter pilot and needed to know how to fly through it. We have the scope to do rapid 3-D modeling, but we need to find a way to get that in the field quickly. Another one is littoral [operations]. We will have to do it again, we may have to do it at very short notice, and we are going to have to work onboard ships a bit more.”
Libya quickly is turning into a classic case. “Timelines were very dynamic in Libya,” recalls Cpl. Ross Colwell, a geo support sapper who was deployed to support Apache crews and Royal Navy personnel on board HMS Ocean. “The main product I created was the rebel frontline; it could change by the hour, so I had to get products out pretty much as soon as I could get them, generally within half an hour. On board HMS Ocean the distribution of products was quite simple—mainly it was hard copy. But we require improved dissemination techniques [to send products off-ship].”
Indeed, while historically geoint has been land-based, the maritime domain is becoming an increasingly important geoint domain, driven by the resurgence of piracy, which brings greater urgency to the need for accurate intelligence about shipping movements. Also, year-round access to formerly ice-bound shipping routes demands real-time updates and high-grain detail to enable safe passage through constantly changing sea lanes.
The Italian company e-Geos, owned jointly by Finmeccanica and Thales, can collect two complete sets of images of the Northwest Passage within 17 hr. from its Cosmo-SkyMed satellite constellation. Analysis of images taken minutes apart can help calculate the speed of the movement of ice and thus aid route prediction.
ExactEarth of Cambridge, Ontario, has built a lower-orbiting constellation specifically to map shipping movements over oceans. At 30 km (18.6 mi.) the satellites can receive signals from shipboard Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), enabling real-time intelligence on any vessel deviating from its planned route, and flagging the location of ships that have their AIS turned off.
The benefits of geoint are also apparent to homeland security and police forces. GeoEye of McLean, Va., a supplier of satellite imagery, acquired the predictive analysis company Spadac in 2010 and now supplies more than 40 customers with predictive geospatial intelligence. The software analyzes geo-tagged data to discover relationships between events and features in the physical and human environment; a proprietary algorithm then predicts future occurrences. The company has demonstrated prediction of phenomena as varied as burglaries and the arrival of invasive species.
Geoint is also an area that seems particularly open to innovations from outside the traditional defense establishment. Santa Clara, Calif. -based Nvidia, known for high-speed graphics processing cards used mainly to improve the game-playing power of consumer PCs, says its cards are a good fit for the intensive data processing frequently found in geoint tasks. Not only could the processing power assist in enhancement of imagery received at a base station, but exponential increases in processing capability on board a satellite or UAV could speed up intelligence dissemination by ensuring only the most relevant imagery is sent down to the ground.
By Angus Batey
March 21, 2012