Lt Gen AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd) Managing Editor
The last decade and a half has seen GIS establish itself as an indispensable information processing system. The amount of information it can process has increased tremendously and so has its usage. Numerous civil and military applications need a GIS platform which can present a wide area macro background with capability to zoom into a desired level for required details. In civil, it is required in applications like weather forecasting (cyclone warnings, postdisaster estimations and rescue missions, anticipation of impending eco disasters etc.) to take timely preventive measures, navigational planning including route control, route monitoring or autonomous piloting, or wide area surveys for urban planning. In the military arena, it helps in substantially improving situational awareness, identifying exact locations of threats and targets, dynamic 3D terrain modelling, monitoring operations, providing fast, continuous update of status of battlefield/lines of communication/coast lines or any other area of responsibility or interest.
Various GIS tools may have requisite software to construct the desired broad picture, but the software requires actionable raw data, which should be gathered from a vantage platform over a period of time. The usual vantage platforms were satellites and aircraft, using a variety of payloads to acquire data, the higher the platform the better, to obtain the broadest, macro pictures. These platforms however, suffer from the disadvantages of being non-contiguous in time/space domain, processing time delays, resolution and stabilisation issues, higher costs in case of satellites and risk to human life in case of manned platforms. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have emerged as a platform that not only overcomes most of the limitations of other platforms, but also provides numerous other advantages. Their versatility, high endurance, low or virtually no risk to crew, coupled with associated advances in technology in communication, stabilisation and sensor resolution, have made them the most reliable GIS platform. Incidentally, UAVs themselves use GIS as a navigational backbone. Moreover, a better platform improves the quality of GIS data, which in turn makes the platform more reliable.
This issue of GeoIntelligence explores this platform – UAVs – their impact in changing the face of aviation, their numerous applications, growth potential and their effect on the nature of future conflict. There is no doubt that UAVs will eventually replace manned aircraft to a large extent, but whether this will lead to a better and safer world or will it increase the possibility of many more 9/11 type attacks with terrorist pilots sitting on ground in safe havens is yet to be seen. Whatever is the future, one thing is sure that UAVs are here to stay and GIS has a strong ally, resource and user in them.