Home Articles Exploiting GIS in command and control systems

Exploiting GIS in command and control systems

Major Saurabh Agrawal
MCTE, Mhow
[email protected]

<< Military uses GIS in a variety of applications including intelligence, battlefield management, terrain analysis, remote sensing, logistics, etc. In today’s world, GIS is an excellent tool for military commanders. In fact, the effective and efficient use of GIS applications in military forces can revolutionise the way military forces operate >>

Since the beginning of civilisation, military forces have played a dominant role in the world. The focus on strong military continues to be a major force with a heavy reliance on technology. Technology has not only changed the way wars are fought, but its employment has become a key factor in attaining dominance in military power. Exercising of command and control (C2) is an essential element of military forces across the world. Use of technology for accurate and faster C2 has given paradigm elevation in situational awareness, thereby enabling military commanders to be ahead of enemy’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop by providing detailed informational decision support based on geo platform.

The need of swift and accurate C2 system was amply demonstrated during the Gulf war by Allied forces against Iraq. In an article published in Electronic Today (November 1996), Major General Gurbaksh Singh wrote: “The lessons gained from military history indicate that the key to military victory lies (regardless of military size of the opposing forces) in remaining ahead of the enemy in time sensitive C4I2 process. If a defending force or weapon system, with some accuracy and sufficient warning, finds out where the attacker is or what his future course of action would be, it would be easier to defeat him by occupying position of advantage or by massing a superior force at the point of decision.”

GIS in C2 system
Command and Control, or C2, in a military organisation can be defined as the exercise of authority and direction by a designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission. C2 functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating and controlling forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission. Commanders are assisted in executing these tasks by specialised staff officers and enlisted personnel, who provide a bi-directional flow of information between a commander and subordinate military units.

The purpose of military staff is mainly to provide accurate and timely information on which command decisions are based. The key application is that of decisions that effectively manage unit resources. While information flow towards the commander is a priority, information that is useful or contingent in nature is communicated to lower staff/ units.

The effect of technological developments in all facets of military arena cannot be ignored. In order to derive optimum benefit from technologies, it is important to gather all types of information, that is, acquire, store and analyse information and process it in such a way that it is ready for use by commanders and staff. Along with obtaining information, it is critical to present that information at the right place and right time on an easily understandable platform, and as accurate and updated as possible. One of the platforms that is used to manage the information is GIS. The technology provides analysing tools for decision makers to exercise C2. When we link the very complex spatial information with non-spatial information within a geographic model, it becomes easier to analyse and use information.

Power of GIS in C2 system
All operational activities are function of space and time. The aim of the decision spectrum involves making available operational resources at the right location and at the right time. The decision spectrum comprises OODA cycle, and the success of battlefield management lies in reducing the time of our OODA cycle and increasing the cycle of the adversary. The power of GIS in C2 systems comes from the fact that GIS provides easily understandable geo platform with information plotted on it, thereby reducing time required to take decision, and issue orders to subordinate military units to take action.

Military GIS requirements are different and unique
Military decisions affect national security, human lives and can cause physical destruction. It is the last line of defence of a nation. There is therefore no scope for marginal error. Military planning is thus different from the way civil society plans. While GIS based civil application focuses on a few features and derive thematic layers from these features, military commanders would be interested in performing analysis on the entire layers on a cartographic map. In addition, tactical symbology is a vast and documented entity in itself which also forms part of a military commander’s analysis. Also, military decisions have a lot of subjectivity. These are some of the main factors that distinctly demarcates a military GIS application from that of any civil application.

Key applications for GIS based C2 systems
Terrain modelling: A customised GIS application can provide automated assistance to military forces’ terrain analysis function. In any military operation, military field commanders would like to know terrain conditions, elevations and routes for maneuvering armoured forces. In addition, they need accurate information about vegetation cover, road networks and communication lines for optimising resource utilisation.

A detailed land map with information on land use, terrain model and proximity of habitat is essential for military operations. Target assessment can be done if the inputs are properly matched with the system used for firing the weapon. One of the most important functions of GIS along with satellite imagery is to understand and interpret terrain, which has a major role to play in determining how troops can be deployed in the quickest and most effective way. Understanding land and what is located on it, is especially useful because a commander can determine strategic positions such as ideal locations for scouting parties, best line of sight/fire and also the ability to hide troops and equipments.

Positioning and tracking systems: Military heavily depends on GIS and GPS to make tactical decisions such as guiding troops, supplies/ equipment, informing them of possible threats, problems with terrain and also to direct attention to specific areas of interests.

Weather information system: Weather plays a dominant role in the battlefield. Real-time weather information is essential for field commanders (be it on land, sea or in air) for successful completion of the task. At times, weather can play a crucial role in the success or failure of an operation. Thus, every battlefield commander requires information about cloud coverage, wind conditions, visibility, temperature parameters and other related inputs.

Simulation and wargaming: Operational information simulations would involve generation of 2D and 3D scenarios on a terrain backdrop which work on a database powered by “what if analysis” applications. Aim of these operational functions is to analyse the course of action of both enemy as well as our own forces and aid in decision making.

3D terrain modelling, drape and fly through systems: It is important to model the terrain and evaluate it before the operation begins. Draping of maps and imagery about the terrain is very helpful. This technology is also used for flight simulation.

Electronic warfare system: All electronic warfare systems require terrain data either for analysis or for display. GIS based platform is best suited for them.

Radar coverage and frequency analysis system: For the site selection of the radars and radio antennas, coverage area analysis, propagation analysis, weapon or missile corridors, flight corridors, etc. are analysed and displayed via GIS tools.

Geographic analysis: This includes profile analysis, distance measurement, angle measurement, night visibility analysis, military overlay preparation tools, scaled and oriented value added map re-production, fire coordination systems, deployment and transportation planningmonitoring systems etc.

Logistics management: GIS plays an important role in military logistics because it is able to move supplies, equipments and troops where they are needed, at the right time, place and in right quantity. GIS can be used to determine routes, for example, using network analysis for convoys, forces can establish alternative routes if mishaps or traffic jams occur on the direct route. Application of GIS in the management of logistics bases facilitates maintenance. Planning for logistics with detailed route definitions, distribution models, shortest path analysis, query and display of the facilities and logistic infrastructure are other related issues addressed by the technology.

There are various challenges ahead for exploitation of GIS in C2 systems. It involves multifaceted issues involving architecture, data, application, communication and organisation processes.

Architectural issues

Three tier (web) Vs two tier (client/ server) architecture

  • There is no need for high capacity RDBMS server with high capacity Web GIS server, high capacity network between client and server and between RDBMS server and web server for the web architecture, but all those are necessary for client/server architecture.
  • Technological future expectations and software management/ upgrade exist for web architecture but don’t exist for the client/ server architecture.
  • Response speed and network load is better in web architecture.
  • Cost of web architecture is low after 50 users but high in the client/server architecture.

Centralised vs distributed architecture: The decision on type should be taken after due deliberation on required response time, existing bandwidth, scale of the application, etc. For example, for an enterprise GIS covering large area, it should have distributed architecture. In line with the assessments above, the most effective architecture is “Web based GIS distributed architecture with RDBMS based spatial and nonspatial data storage.”

Spatial data

Common horizontal datum: It is necessary that the spatial data for use by military units reside within the framework of single datum for coordinating joint service operations. There is a bottleneck in this aspect in the present scenario of military operations. This becomes more complex when multinational forces are deployed. Thus, a common datum is necessary. Slowly WGS84 is emerging as a common datum for all such operations. The technological advances in position fixing using satellites are based on WGS84, and most of the military applications need to be shifted to this datum in course of time. As an interim measure, there should be at least interoperability between and within the three wings of armed forces to use a common reference datum in their activities in mapping for effective conduct of joint military operations.

Handling of file formats and conversion: Different organisations within armed forces and other government and non-government agencies are using different softwares for development of application leading to various file formats. Hence, there is requirement of standardisation of file formats to ensure fidelity to reduce file conversion losses, and avoid time wastage.

Non-spatial data

Data modelling: Previous experiences very strongly suggest that any development without deliberate requirement analysis to identify the data required and data definition has led to unsuccessful development of application. Hence, data modelling requires focused, constant and iterative interaction between the developer and domain experts.

Data compatibility, integration and sharing: Data at all levels, that is, various tactical, operational, strategic, tri-service and national level (NSDI) systems should be Courtesy:www.barco.com fully compatible, integrated and shared based on requirement after due deliberation on all security aspects. This will not only remove the redundancy of creation of data, but will also ensure availability of all related data.

Data redundancy and replication: Besides keeping a backup, in order to ensure maximum data availability even after data corruption or loss of infrastructure due to enemy action, it is important to plan horizontal and vertical replication of selected critical data at all levels.

Front end application

Common operating picture (COP): The character of GIS in C2 systems has been changing in last few years. Instead of being supportive and largely independent service to the operations, it is required to become fully integrated at nearly all levels of C2 systems. At COP, browser application is an interface which collects data from different sources/ information systems, and combines them together as each “recognised picture”.

Aim of COP: First, it is a common and shared situational awareness tool for majority of users for assigned Areas of Responsibility (AOR) and Areas of Interest (AOI). It provides multi-dimensional view of the theatre, especially for decision mechanism. Second, its purpose is to be a decision support utility via monitoring ground pictures on a single screen. In other words, it enables information flow among various systems and user groups via network. Interoperability should be secured by common GIS environment and integral functional information system such as operation, intelligence, logistics etc.

Inputs to COP: Positional data of forces/ resources of enemy/ friendly ORBAT, planning data, historical data, intelligence and logistics data, geographic and meteorological data, HTML data, tactical data links, formatted message data, military catalogue and common database, etc.

Types of applications: Armed forces have different force levels operating at different levels with force specific missions. Having one type of geo platform for all force levels is not a solution for the entire spectrum. That is, different force levels have different needs. For example, a platoon operational requirements are lesser compared to corps. It is similar to accessing different websites for the same data through a desktop/ laptop and mobile phones. Also, the nature of application will depend upon the mobile capability and characteristic of the force level. So while the back end database remains the same, what is required is that the application needs for different force level be identified, and the applications developed accordingly. Also, there is need for seamless integration between all the applications.

Communication links: The communication infrastructure and bandwidth availability are among the biggest challenges for implementation of GIS at all levels. Although, it must be ensured that the communication density and capacity should be constantly upgraded to exploit GIS to ensure net-centric warfare, it is important that the GIS architecture, application and spatial and non-spatial data should confine themselves to minimum requirements. What is required is careful review of where the flow of information should stop, how much information can really be used, needs of soldiers and accordingly limit information flow. It is of prime importance that any GIS application should clearly state the bandwidth requirements to communication planners.

Organisational issues

Process modelling: Present process within the services follows a hierarchical model. The implementation of such system in command and control requires flat model of functioning. The biggest hindrance to this effect is the existing mind set. The challenge lies not only in changing the mind set, but also requires tremendous effort in changing various existing standard operating procedures and policies in the organisation.

HR and training: There is a requirement for creation of small nucleus of experts and fully literate users about successful implementation of the system. This will involve selection and identification of various individuals for specific appointments and systematic training of all users/ experts.

Security: Although there should be data sharing and integration, the security aspects should not be ignored. Aspects of authentication, confidentiality and non-repudiation should be implemented with due deliberation on user management, access rights management, etc.

Creation of organisations: There is a need for creation of organisations at all levels for implementation, maintenance and monitoring of such systems. There is also a requirement for creation of design and development cell with experts of project management, domain knowledge, GIS and application development.

Present warfare involves an integrated approach for evaluating battle area for mobilising logistics, moving various forces and setting communication network for effective C2 in near real-time scenario. GIS has become an integral module of C2 system. Most of the geospatial analysis capabilities and functional utilities of the GIS are developed and adopted to functional area services of C2 information system. Specific submodules are being added. Standards for geospatial and non-spatial data, database and application architecture are identified. Geo databases are established with a very wide spectrum of geospatial information. In accordance with the results of various assessments, the most effective architecture was identified as, “COP model of web based GIS architecture with RDBMS based spatial and non spatial data storage”. The uses for GIS will continue to evolve as technology advances. While the full potential of some GIS applications in C2 have already been discovered, future of GIS applications in military will be determined by how military accept GIS and utilises it in the most efficient way possible.