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Enterprise GIS for seamless COP

Enterprise GIS for seamless COP


Robert Burkhardt
Geospatial Information Officer (GIO) and Director,
Topographic Engineering Centre (TEC), US Army

Rob Burkhardt speaks to GIS Development just after being appointed the first Geospatial Information Officer of US Army on the need for creation of such a post and the importance of geospatial technologies in defence and intelligence

What led to the creation of a post like “Geospatial Information Officer”?
Last year, the US Army completed two geospatial studies, one among them being the Geospatial Functional Solutions Analysis (FSA). This FSA was conducted by a US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) – led Integrated Capabilities Development Team (ICDT). The FSA outlined major geospatial capability gaps the army was facing in terms of the quantity and fidelity of foundation data, application of standards, fusion in intelligence and battle command systems, lack of advocacy on the army staff and absence of governance of geospatial functions and the inability of units to seamlessly transfer operational areas to other units preserving the knowledge they had gained through combat.

As a result, the army Vice Chief of Staff established a Geospatial Governance Board who appointed me as the first Geospatial Information Officer. Almost simultaneously, the army’s Acquisition Executive established a policy to bring all the army’s systems acquisition organisations and their respective systems into an Army Geospatial Enterprise. He stood up the Geospatial Acquisition Support Office inside Topographic Engineering Center to do data modelling, standards creation, system of system engineering and certification of the geospatial enterprise army wide.

What are your views on the usage of geospatial technologies in defence sector?
We are in transition from geospatial information being just background maps to interactive distributed enterprise geodatabases synchronised and managed by the entire defence community. In the past few years, we have undertaken several joint geospatial enterprise services (JGES) demonstrations, experiments and prototypes. The success of these activities gives me great confidence that we are on the right path and that establishment of an army-wide geospatial enter- prise is an achievable goal. We have demonstrated there are enterprise GIS software and hardware tools available that can be tailored to accommodate the breath of defence requirements for a shared and seamless common operating picture (COP) where every soldier is a contributing sensor. We, in defence, are late adapters – particularly because our problem was so large and that our transport layers (communications) are so spotty. But if you look at many industries, non-governmental organisations, states and local governments, it is clear this technology makes for better, more timely and cost-effective decisions. Their COPs are becoming integrated and fused from data collected on public utilities, to real estate to taxes and crime fighting. Somerset County, New Jersey and the State of Pennsylvania are two great examples of what you can do to reduce your costs, preserve data, share data and make better decisions. Defence command and control and intelligence systems are nearly devoid of best practices in enterprise geographic information systems that have existed for years in other sectors. We are still primarily a collection of stovepipes with proprietary ways to collect, display and analyse geo data.

What are the prime necessities and key challenges involved in the utilisation/ implementation of geospatial technology in defence?
In no particular priority order, we must:

  • Have commanders as advocates for this architecture
  • Have the resources to build out the infrastructure and integrate various legacy data streams into a common distributed geodatabase.
  • Adopt and enforce the minimum set of data, hardware and software standards to enable the geospatial enterprise.
  • Provide strong geospatial oversight to our acquisition programmes, quick response capabilities and joint capabilities, technical demonstrations and S&T developments in adoption.
  • Build towards a single enterprise geographic information system (EGIS) implementation for synchronisation across DoD and the intelligence community.
  • Modify our training, tactics and procedures to get the most out of the powerful capabilities a geospatial enterprise will give us.
  • Establish unified command and control of all geospatial units.
  • Continue to establish great working partnerships with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), all services, coalition partners, commands, programme executive officers (PEOs), industry and S&T organisations.

With NSDI in the background, are there security issues involved in sharing data with civilian agencies/ organisations?
If we get to a point where we have a robust NSDI, there are no reasons why sharing data of the US should be of concern unless it is of classified facilities. The defence sector, except at the request of the local/state government and with proper executive direction, during emergency operations for disasters does not focus collection on the US.

What are the trends in geospatial intelligence in terms of product development and applications? In your view, what is the direction software providers/industry should take while developing solutions for defence sector?
Product development and application in geospatial intelligence have seen a revolution of sorts in the past five years. Developers should concentrate on giving us the ability to deploy a distributed geospatial enterprise (governed by our standards) while understanding that we have to service disadvantaged communications users. Tools for analysis are robust and getting better. Tools for network analysis and turning data into information services are being brought into commercial use. Direct use of geodatabases into modelling, simulation and rehearsal systems is progressing well. But we must remember we are moving from project oriented fusion to enterprise fusion. The major benefit we are looking at is to enable the unintended user to look at data for his or her purposes under the same geospatial frame of reference.

What are your thoughts on implementation of GIS in services in countries of Asia?
Any country, city, province, state or territory interested in moving people and materiel from Point A to Point B efficiently and cost/time-effectively should consider implementing GIS in their operations. Many do so without realising that they are utilising a GIS tool to get there-anywhere- quicker and safer. Review the relief and recovery efforts taking place in the Sichuan province of China, where an 8.0-magnitude earthquake occurred on May 12, causing the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years. The impact of GIS on their operations is clearly evident. Engineers supported imagery and data processing as aerial photos and remotelysensed data depicting damage assessments and road collapses were fed to desktop computers, wireless laptop computers, Web-enabled phones or other mobile devices to view spatial data as it was being collected. This data was collected to produce a common operating picture, from which officials could orchestrate the movement of staff and supplies.

What is in store for GIS in defence?
We live in exciting times. It will take us some time to turn the DoD and the intelligence community into a coherent geospatial enterprise. As we do, it will reduce cost and increase our efficiency giving our soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and special operators a terrific advantage over their adversaries. Solutions are here today. It is possible to accelerate development, acquisition and deployment. I am proud of what the army is doing and prouder yet of our partners in NGA, USMC and SOCOM who are with us on this journey.