Geospatial Intelligence – Its Military Operations Context

Geospatial Intelligence – Its Military Operations Context


Bhaskar Burman
Scientist ‘E’
Defence Terrain Research Laboratory (DTRL),
Email: [email protected]


Geospatial Intelligence is a new intelligence discipline emerged out of the convergence of geospatial and imagery information. The convergence is due to tremendous technological advances in digital data processing, precision geo-positioning systems, remote sensors and imageries. These advances allow data to be moved and manipulated interchangeably between imagery products, maps and charts. With the advent of Geographical Information Systems software tools, digital databases, rather than venerable paper maps and charts, have become the key medium for visualizing geospatially referenced information. So Geopspatial Intelligence can formally be defined as the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the earth. It is the merger of geospatial data with imageries so as to arrive at layers of information that depict the physical and cultural features of the area of interest in three dimensions and allow users to visualize inaccessible terrain. Through accurate 3-D visualization, geospatial intelligence allows rapid understanding of the physical environment and rapid evaluation of potential adversary courses of action. Geospatial reference data, such as digital terrain elevation and terrain feature data provide the environment context, while recent satellite or aerial imageries of area of interest supplies the dynamic context.

In the context of Military Operations, the growing demand for the tactical war fighters has been the most important factor behind the emergence of the new geospatial intelligence discipline. The more rapid pace of their targeting cycle and the massive volume of targets have placed immense stress on the intelligence production process. The timeliness required for rapid, precision engagement demands closer integration of the tools and processes of the imagery specialists who detect and characterize targets and the geospatial specialists who characterize and measure the battle space. Decisions of the highest order, including when and where to start combat operations are getting more and more dependent on geospatial intelligence. To create the basic picture of the environment to which the forces are going to be deployed is crucial, either to a military operation across the border or in the internal security context. Geospatial intelligence embraced the concept of intelligence preparation of the battlefield covering the layout of the terrain and environment, the infrastructure, the roads, the bridges, the railway system, the electricity generation system and many more features that are relevant to operation planning.

Two types of product can be thought of towards generation of geospatial intelligence. One can be called reference data, the global reference data sets on any given area of interest. Other product type can consist of mission-specific data sets. If the military is going to conduct operation somewhere, very detailed data sets will be made available so as to prepare strategic and tactical geospatial intelligence products which may go well beyond just a map and imageries. The target should be to provide automated, realistic, three-dimensional, fly-through, drive-through and walk-through representations of areas of interest. Highly accurate terrain-visualization tools will be of great value to a decision-maker, planner, pilot or special-operation forces, particularly for mission planning and rehearsals. There is also a need to develop knowledge base so that an image analyst or a military planner in future could access the database through a secured web portal and look for what he or she needs with the help of user-friendly tools.