Home Articles Geospatial technology applications for defence and security

Geospatial technology applications for defence and security

Jean-François Faudi


Jean-François Faudi
Technical Manager, eads fleximage
Email:[email protected]

Rod McCourt


Rod McCourt
imagery analysis
consultant and instructor, eads fleximage
Email:[email protected]
In recent times, the nature and number of the threats that a defence or security centre has to deal with has dramatically increased. This has led to the requirement for quicker and more adaptable image intelligence systems. Simultaneously, due to reducing military budgets and man-power, these systems should also be easier to learn and cost-effective

Fleximage was founded in 1989, as a spin-off from the French Defence Agency, to provide an efficient and up-to-date software tool to analyse satellite imagery. Since 2000, it has been a subsidiary of the EADS Group as a part of the Defence & Security Division, attached to the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) line of business. Fleximage provides IMINT systems expertise for strategic and tactical image intelligence as well as for crisis management and surveillance. Since 1990, Fleximage has been convinced that image analysis will depend more on the image analyst than on the image analysis tool. Even with greater computing power or higher image resolution, military image analysis is still a matter of interpretation. Image analysis tools should help the analyst as much as possible but the final decision should rely on the experience and know-how of the human specialist. This is especially true for defence and security interpretation, where decisions can lead to major consequences, particularly in the targeting role. This is why training and information sharing among image analysts is a key issue for any defence or security application.

Use of Geospatial Information
Imagery expertise in the field of Homeland Security has been much under utilised before 1995 and for many countries remained a capability which was out-of-reach. This was mainly due to the high price of the satellite data and political constraints during the Cold War (restriction on the dissemination of this so-called ‘spying’ technology).

But nowadays, with the Cold War over and more competition among space companies, the technology is available to more and more countries which either buy images, time from a commercial satellite or even set up a full observation satellite program. Several aerospace companies like EADS sell aerial platforms and ground segments for homeland security operations. High resolution imagery is now omnipresent in Defence and Homeland Security Operations. It is geographically accurate, with almost any location on earth available, updated regularly and can be linked with widespread GPS technology.

Some of the main applications are :

  • To assist with planning and reporting on large security operations, where there is a high risk of terrorist action
  • To prepare and simulate a mission before the commencement of a specific operation
  • To plan defensive operations in order to assess the vulnerable avenues of approach to a particular property or point of interest
  • To perform mission planning and imagery analysis support for a systematic aerial search of an area of interest for possible terrorist activity
  • To take part in Peace Keeping Operations where troops will operate in a foreign environment and need to be fully aware of their geographical surroundings
  • To prepare and evaluate action during natural disasters where action on the ground is difficult (for example, the use of radar imagery with an all-weather capability but a rather complex interpretation process)

Of course, the benefits are quite obvious in terms of reduced risk (no personnel need to be deployed on the ground), reduced effort (a great deal of intelligence information can be derived from aerial imagery) and reduced cost (aerial assets for law enforcement agencies are a force multiplier and save funds in the long term). In the same way as military products are divided into “Strategic” or “Tactical”, homeland security products are divided into two categories. “Contingency”, for slow time planning operations and “Crisis”, for real time operational support.

There is a variety of aerial/CSI imagery products which can be applied to homeland security:

  • Operational Briefing Pack (OBP)
  • Arbitrary Grid Overlay (AGO) on a Vertical Image
  • Line of Sight Survey (LSS)
  • Ingress/Egress Study (IES)
  • Surveillance Planning Aid (SPA)
  • Detailed Target Appraisal (DTA)
  • Aerial Mission Planning (AMP)
  • Pre / Post-event Surveillance (PES)

And Defence

  • Intelligence Maps
  • Detailed Target Analysis
  • Targeting
  • Battle Damage Assessment (BDA)]

All these products can now be created using geospatial tools but their content and value relies on the image analysis experts as well as on software and systems.

Knowledge tools for the image interpreter
Imagery is a very rich media which presents a enormous amount of information on any single image or screen view. Furthermore the areas of interest for Defence and Security applications are extremely varied. During the Cold War era, major intelligence agencies focused mainly on counting and plotting conventional armies and weapons. At that time military intelligence agencies were re-allocated to the monitoring of crises and industrial espionage all over the world. Since September 11th, the focus has changed to more mobile and widespread targets such as terrorist training camps and terrorist weapons of choice, for example mortars.

Imagery intelligence requests from a military headquarters or a national security agency could be anything from checking the surroundings of a civilian nuclear power plant to detect illegal enrichment of uranium, checking for population displacement or refugee camps, identifying illegal crop plantations, assessing the capacity of an aluminium factory, etc…

As the image analyst is still the heart of the system, he needs to clearly analyse the images and geospatial information in order to produce an accurate report and therefore requires access to large amount of reference material.