Terrain intelligence has always been important for winning a battle. In this aricle, the writer advocates establishing a repository of battle-space geographic information called Military Geospatial Intelligence System (MGIS)
Combat, by its very definition, is an event extra-ordinarily excruciating. It is an ultimate condition that is distinguishable by its phenomenal characteristics which demand, among other undertakings, absolute perfection in marshalling the diverse elements of combat that constitute a military force, for example, troops, firepower, mobility and intelligence. Thus down the ages, ‘Great Captains’ of war have articulated their strategic intellect to secure victory, irrespective of the bulk of forces, by the best orchestration of the resources under their command. In modern times, developments in ‘Information Warfare’ have raised the bar of such Terrain intelligence has always been important for winning a battle. In this aricle, the writer advocates establishing a repository of battle-space geographic information called Military Geospatial Intelligence System (MGIS) orchestration to such a high level that it becomes possible to exploit to the hilt the individual capabilities of each element of the military machine. More importantly, it is possible now to seamlessly integrate all such diverse force-elements into one whole system of war-fighting. Military intelligence — terrestrial, strategic and tactical – has always been the most decisive factor in application of combat power as well as an enabling tool for the aforementioned ‘best’ orchestration of military resources. Within its overall ambit, terrain intelligence – geospatial intelligence in the wider sense as we understand today – has been the pivot of strategic, operational and tactical decision making. In the contemporary period of technological explosion, that pivot has assumed unlimited scope for articulation. At the crosshairs of ever-adversarial forces across terrains of unique descriptions, institution of an efficient mechanism for harnessing the properties of geospatial intelligence — MGIS — must, therefore, be a top priority for India. However, to be really effective, that endeavour has to be tailored to Indian conditions and backed up with indigenous competences; the scope and coverage of GIS as propounded by the lead militaries of the world, USA, China, NATO and Russia, is neither accessible nor sustainable and may not even be necessary in the context of India’s technical-industrial-fiscal capacity, and inter alia, her military objectives.
History tells us that fundamental characteristics of warfare remain eternal, only the means and methods of engaging in such endeavours change with the times. Indeed, it needs no emphasis that terrain intelligence, the bedrock of its modern version, geospatial intelligence, has always been a key factor in planning and conduct of warfare. The German XIX Panzer Corps’ breakthrough across the Ardennes Forest in 1940, India’s campaign in East Pakistan in 1971 and breakthrough of Israel’s 143 Division followed by 162 and 252 Armoured Divisions across the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War are some examples of the potency of terrestrial intelligence, just as the cost India had to pay in the Kargil War of 1999 highlights the consequences of its neglect. However, it may be interesting to cite some stark examples to note as to how well dynamism in harnessing of terrain intelligence pays in conduct of military operations.
In 1847, while campaigning to capture Mexico City, American forces numbering about 11,000 troops under the leadership of General Winfield Scott found themselves confronted, on two different flanks, with over 36,000 Mexican troops under command of Generals Santa Anna and Gabriel Valencia. A more threatening situation was that the Americans had to negotiate over a terrain covered with impassable drying lakes, marshes and rough lava-fields. That was a time when terrain intelligence gathering was a process of manual engineer reconnaissance, an expertise in which the Americans have traditionally excelled. Scott used that expertise to move his forces through routes which while according protection through the geographic features of the terrain, obliged the Mexicans to disperse, only to be defeated in detail. The second example is that of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, when India’s 11 Corps crossed over the Ichhogil Canal in West Pakistan — a feat of much celebration. 11 Corps could foresee that possibility when it scouted to obtain geographical details and specifications of the Canal. Both these incidents highlight the tactical dividends accruing out of real-time terrain intelligence. Indeed, there are numerous such examples to cite from the Gulf Wars.
MGIS: An Element of Modern Combat
By definition, the role of MGIS is to capture, filter, validate and store terrestrial information in given formats of digitised data for the purpose of quick and accurate integration, manipulation and analysis to build up actionable military intelligence. When linked to modern communication and data-transfer resources, MGIS makes it possible to disseminate information of military value, or its processed form, military intelligence across a limitless expanse of subscriber base.
In the context of this discussion, MGIS could be described as one aspect of military intelligence which functions as a repository of battle-space geographic-spatial information. The repository is an information databank to cover the terrestrial features of tactical and technical relevance as it pertains to the terrain of intended military operations. When such information is duly analysed with military wisdom, it permits build up of real-time geospatial intelligence of military value. MGIS compliments the other aspect of military intelligence, namely, strategic and tactical information system — formally referred to as the Military Operational Intelligence System (MOIS) — which covers force build up, weapon and equipment capabilities, deployment and movements. To remain current, and therefore relevant, both these aspects have to be operative in a continuum of time, space and contents of stored information. MGIS, when skillfully integrated with the MOIS, stitches a wholesome military intelligence picture at near-real points of time, thus indicating the opponent’s likely motive. This, in turn, imparts dynamism to the practice of ‘Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield’ (IPB). As we are aware, efficient IPB reduces uncertainty and allows focussed application of combat power to counter the opponent’s most likely course of action. It empowers military planners in factoring force-deployment, precision weapon engagement and tactical manoeuvres to shape the battlefield in tune with the situational changes. The process of operational decision making is thus promoted. MGIS is therefore a foremost decision support system which, by perfecting the quality of intelligence, assists military commanders and staff to engage in combat with a very high degree of assurance.
A word of caution here. Given the hype it generates among the layman enthusiasts who tend to ascribe romantic possibilities to GIS, it may be noted that neither the concept nor the process is unique. Whereas the volume of contents captured, its accuracy and speed The role of MGIS is to capture, filter, validate and store terrestrial information in given formats of digitised data for the purpose of quick and accurate integration, manipulation and analysis to build up actionable military intelligence of retrieval, collation and analysis, integration of inter-disciplinary information and near-real time access across a wide user-base are the distinguishing aspects of modern MGIS as compared to its older, menial versions; acumen of military science and art remains the ultimate arbitrator in war, as ever. In other words, within the ambit of the ’Principle of War’, MGIS provides to the military forces the ability to keep pace with the technology driven fast pace of operations across the entire range of combat activities.
Operational Imperatives of MGIS
MGIS performs its intelligence functions based on a trinity of activities which may be concurrent as well as sequential depending upon the range, depth, quality and opacity of the information databank, besides of course the pace at which information changes with respect to time. These activities therefore may be described as build up of ‘Basic Information’, ‘Dynamic Information’ and ‘Deductive Information’. Of course, these activities are relevant to MOIS too, but to retain focus, it would be in order hereafter to confine the discussion to the subject matter of MGIS.
Basic Information: Terrestrial composition of any campaigning area remains more or less constant in terms of human scales of time. Therefore, it is possible to build up comprehensive information databanks regarding the various features of the terrain over a period of time. These features are natural like climate, soil properties, elevation, gradient, vegetation, rivers, natural obstacles and hazards, as well as man-made like roads, built-up areas, canals, bridges and artificial obstacles. Recording of the properties of terrain features is a deliberate and time consuming discipline of civil engineering which can never be conclusive to perfection. This is particularly so for military purposes since unlike other fields of activities, factors that shape planning and execution of warfare can neither be fully specified nor customised. To illustrate, river data at some points of interest may not be sufficient to plan military operations unless it is referenced with such data at all other points of relevance. For sustained information build-up, therefore, each feature of the terrain as well as its attributes (properties, specifications) of military significance need to be scheduled into prioritised work-programmes, and treated as a continuous engagement. Dynamic Information: Changes over time that occur in terrain features and their military attributes, either naturally or through human intervention, for example, artificial alteration of terrain by construction or demolition are incorporated according to a specified periodicity to see that the basic information databank remains updated. Obviously, during campaign times, the periodicity of updates closes down to days and hours. Point to note however, is that dynamism of information becomes pronounced when MGIS is integrated with MOIS.
Deductive Information: We have seen that when it comes to MGIS, no information databank can ever be so comprehensive as to provide for the construction of perfect intelligence picture. It is therefore for the competent information analysts to marshal their tactical and technical acumen to interpolate and predict, with high degree of assurance, the answers to impromptu queries that the operational planners and field commanders may pose. For example, additional attributes of a terrain feature like a river at an unspecified point of interest may need to be factored into planning and execution of battle plans, and this information may have to be deducted from what inputs are readily available. A thorough expertise in terrain engineering permits such deductive exercises with fair degree of accuracy.
Integration of MGIS with Parallel Systems: Needless to emphasise, successful harnessing of MGIS can only be possible when it is integrated with its other technology driven and tactically exploitable military systems. Therefore synergic integration of MGIS with the corresponding information data input systems (human intelligence, surveillance sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite feedbacks, etc.), the filtration and data processing centres, the authenticating and validating systems, and finally, modern information dissemination systems (communication and data transfer networks) is imperative for it to pay the right dividends.
Build-up of MGIS
MGIS, in fact, is an amalgamation of a number of information systems, each of which is dedicated to various purposes. Nearly 80 per cent of the MGIS construct is made up of terrain information, that is, data of various features of the terrain and their military attributes. This is the Engineer Geospatial Information System (EGIS) which forms the bedrock for further build up of the other user-specific information systems for use in the various arms and services of the military forces. Thus, build up over the EGIS would be the ‘Artillery or Fire Power Geospatial Information System’, ‘Mechanised Forces or Manoeuvre Geospatial Information System’, ‘Air Force or Air Power Geospatial Information System’, ‘Logistic Geospatial Information System’, and so on. Build up of the first tier of the MGIS, the EGIS, is a civil engineering discipline and falls within the competency of the Corps of Engineers (Military Survey). Its main Successful harnessing of MGIS can only be possible when it is integrated with other technology driven and tactically exploitable military systems purpose being: firstly, automated map updating and printing of topographic maps for general use; and secondly, provision of digitised map data for the other user arms and services to put to their specified purpose. The second tier of the MGIS consisting of specialist information databank is to be built up by the domain expertise of each user arm and service. Further, to meet the so far unattended queries which are likely to be raised by the General Staff, a third tier of information databank may also be incorporated into the MGIS, build up of which must remain a staff responsibility. In other words, all the three classes of information discussed above — Basic, Dynamic and Deductive Information — would consist of a better part of EGIS in the first tier, on which the second tier (composed of arm and service specific GIS) would be superimposed, and finally, the third tier (this would be added to answer the General Staff requirements). Obviously, in order to optimise expertise as well the effort, the second and the third tier of MGIS is to be built over the first one, the EGIS, to make MGIS as a complete tool in exploitation of terrestrial intelligence by all arms and services. Across the unlimited range of inputs for MGIS, build up of the related basic information, is in itself a herculean task. It requires an organisation that is dedicated to the purpose and subscribes to the surveyor’s ethos. The volume of queries being virtually unlimited, the practice in modern militaries is to grade terrain features according to their military significance and prioritise the capture and update of their attributes according to a specified level of accuracy.
Build-up of Intelligence Picture
The concept of basic, dynamic and deductive information applies to both, the MGIS and the MOIS, the determining factors being time, space and combat power of opponent’s as well as own. Compared to MGIS, build up and updating of MOIS databank is a relatively simpler process due to ready availability of automatically processed inputs related to force-composition, profiles of weapons, equipment and transport, stocks and location of ammunition and so on. When terrain information from MGIS is integrated with force information extracted from MOIS and the conjoined information is analysed, build up of the overall intelligence picture of the battlefield takes place, the processing sequence being: one, definition of battle-space environment; two, description of its effects; three, evaluation of opponent’s capabilities; and four, determination of the opponent’s possible courses of action. Thus, integration of MGIS and MOIS facilitates identification of the opponent’s most likely option as well as the most dangerous option against own forces and mission.
Role of MGIS in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA)
We may imagine a TBA wherein the formation commander and staff have ready access to updated and accurate intelligence regarding the terrain, deployment of own and enemy forces, movements and most such other inputs that they need to plan operations, monitor execution in near-real time and trigger quick responses to the ever changing battle situation. Similarly, we can imagine unit and sub-unit commanders accessing ready intelligence to translate the larger plans into operational actions of which they bear responsibility. Thus, it is possible to exploit in near-real time the nature of the terrain to deploy, select routes for movement, view the objectives, find inter-visibility, chart flight paths for missiles, emplace weapons, acquire targets, bring down precision fire on selected coordinates, and so on; and yet be able to seek answers to information queries that might have been unforeseen. To be able to do so with utmost speed and accuracy, it would indeed be necessary first to interlink various sources of information gathering (maps, human, satellites, radars etc,) and the sensors deployed to register dynamic information (ground sensors, aerial vehicles — battlefield surveillance system to be precise). The resultant information would need to be cross checked, filtered and graded to finally offer quality inputs for the planning and execution of reconnaissance, targeting and fire assault, manoeuvre, obstacle creation or breaching, and such other operational activities. That, in nutshell, is the role of MGIS in the TBA.
More importantly, MGIS renders it practicable to analyse the trends of occurrence of the events with respect to time, in the battle area, and so predict the emerging developments, for example, movements, deployments etc. Similarly, it facilitates feedback on various tactical activities like damage assessment of targeted objectives, passage of obstacles, and so on. It also plays a vital role in tactical deception by manipulation of terrain signatures. In similar vein, MGIS plays a crucial role in planning and execution of logistic support operations, in which, apart from standard attributes, data regarding local resources and infrastructure adds to the quality of logistic intelligence. Finally, MGIS plays a key role in war-gaming and simulation exercises for realistic training on battle command and control skills.
However, to reiterate, the possibilities listed above, it must be tampered with realism rather than romanticism. There is no query we may seek that was not sought by the ‘Great Captains’ of the days yore; the difference lies in the immediacy of answers and accuracy of information. This is a realisation necessary if we are to avoid the problem of ascribing to MGIS, such capabilities which no human articulated system can ever have, and thereby save ourselves from losing interest in the system when such banal dreams do not come true.
Institutionalisation of MGIS
MGIS, in conjunction with MOIS, plays lead role in application of such Principles of War as ‘Surprise’, ‘Concentration of Force’ and ‘Intelligence’. Furthermore, tactical relevance of MGIS becomes most apparent when we consider the Clausewitz’s ‘Law of Numbers’. This Law specifies that: Combat Power = Force Strength x Environmental and Operational Factors of Combat x Combat Effectiveness Value of Military Assets. When this equation is explored in terms of the Quantified Judgement Model (QJM), we find that MGIS plays a major role in strengthening the second factor while its contribution in optimisation of the third factor is considerable; MOIS being the other pillar of combat power, of course.
At the strategic level, MGIS finds many core applications, of which two representative instances may be mentioned here. One, in line with the concept of ‘Third Generation Warfare’, MGIS enables the modern weapons and manoeuvrability in engagement of the opponent’s ‘peripheral’ and ‘core’ forces in simultaneity — a notable departure from the necessity of undertaking sequential or serial combat. Two, it allows a meaningful fusion between attrition and manoeuvre warfare by opening up a new tactical option, that of ‘precision attrition’ of opposing forces. These advantages of MGIS had been remarkably exploited during the Kosovo campaign, Gulf War II and war in Afghanistan. Needless to mention, institutionalisation of the process of MGIS as well as its harness is imperative if its full advantages are to be reaped by the Indian military institution. Being an issue by itself, it would suffice here to just list out the milestones of such an endeavour. These are: conceptual factoring of MGIS into military planning and execution; continuous and competent build up of comprehensive MGIS database; its in-depth assimilation within the military fraternity; and enhancement of its accessibility at the user end. In the Indian military establishment, particularly so in the Army, the concept of MGIS was appreciated right at the early stages of its advent. The following endeavour, however, has progressed only in fits and starts, restricting, and even back-tracking, the build up of MGIS resources like competent personnel in adequate numbers, executive survey units and arm-specific teams, procurement and placement of tools and equipment, and assimilative as well as practical training. The result is that accrual of the larger advantages of military modernisation — concepts, weapons and equipment, and expertise, when these materialise in the coming days — would have to remain stifled somewhat. Long term vision, professional objectivity, and a scientific temper is necessary to correct this imbalance, and so to ensure that the modernisation schemes do not go lame in the absence of an ability to exploit MGIS to its full potential.