GIS for Defence Logistics

GIS for Defence Logistics


The effectiveness of Command, Control, Communication and Coordination in military operations is largely dependent on the availability of accurate information. In the digital era, GIS is an excellent tool for military commanders in the operations

There are several instances in military history wherein a smaller army having a good knowledge of the terrain has defeated a much larger, well-equipped and organised army. Nearly, all military activities are terrain sensitive and need careful planning and reconnaissance to ensure success. Planning of military operations is a complex process and is guided by the experience and capability of the commander and his staff. This decisionmaking process can be made intelligent by developing geospatial knowledge based systems. A GIS-based approach is capable of taking inputs in the form of data layers that may be generated from satellite images, aerial photographs, topographical maps or other ancillary data.

From its early beginnings, GIS has been an integrating technology both from the point of view of its development as well as its use. This is because, once geographic information of any kind is translated into the digital form in a GIS, it becomes easy to copy, edit, analyse, manipulate and transmit it. This allows vital linkages to be made between apparently unrelated activities based on a common geographic location. This has led to fundamental changes in the way resource management decisions are made in a variety of situations.

The modern battlefield is highly mechanised with heavy arms and ammunitions to shift around. The mobility of any armoured column depends upon the terrain conditions over which it has to move. Parameters like topography, soil type, land use and land cover have a direct bearing on the mobility, methods of crossing obstacles, selection of tactically important areas, etc. Logistics also plays an important role as weapons in a war. Replenishment of ammunition, fuel, repair and recovery cover and other supplies are required to reach the fighting troops in time. These require careful planning in terms of routes to be taken and movement of various types of vehicles to ensure success.

Fortunately, we are living in an era where dissemination of information has virtually become real-time. Remote sensing (RS), GIS and artificial intelligence technologies are sitting on top of IT tools that can together be effectively utilised to develop intelligent systems for war planning. Command, Control, Communication, Coordination and Information (C4I) is one such system where these technologies can be effectively used. For example, satellite RS data can be used to generate a wide range of products such as land use, land cover maps, obstacle maps, slope maps, road mobility maps, line of sight plots etc. A GIS can receive, process, create, store, retrieve, update, manipulate and compress digital terrain data to generate a number of products.

Analysis of Defence Logistics Operation Process
The ultimate objective of defence logistics operation is distributing military supplies at the right time and places to all combat troops. The achievement of this objective is greatly influenced by the capability of information collection, transmission, analysis, processing and utilisation. Based on this geospatial information, some appropriate objectives of defence logistics can be easily achieved by optimising defence logistics operation process and constructing defence logistics management system. The defence logistics operation process can be divided into three phases: Demand Applying, Material Acquisition, and Transportation and Distribution (refer Figure 1).

Emerging Requisites of Defence Logistics
Future logistics technology needs to integrate transportation logistics, near real-time tracking and infrastructure data into a single, secure application accessible through the logistic data network, with near real-time and relevant information about road conditions, construction and weather from well-spread data sets. Technology enables logistics system to visualise assets and perform spatial queries and analysis to depict best option available along with dynamic contingencies in any geographic area.

  • Integration of IT and GIS: Several research themes and outward looking trends are emerging from the challenges being faced by industry, administration and armed forces in the utilisation of this technology. Data integration is one of the most important and broad themes arising out of this. This fusion or concatenation happens from a widening set of sources. We are acquiring data, characterised by a massive increase in spatio-temporal resolution and from new sensors at every scale. This entails that we come up with better methods for data mining and knowledge discovery, to cope with the enormous volumes of data being generated. This in turn requires improved data warehousing, selection, cleaning, transformation, geo-registration, model selection, interpretation and use. The precision delivery of combat service support is anticipatory; it provides significant efficiencies in both supply and distribution which have been made possible due to the explosive growth in high speed IT hardware, GIS/ GPS, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and software technologies. Enhancement in efficiency in both supply and distribution is achieved by integrating location-based services, intelligent transportation systems, wireless technologies and GPS as well as critical transportation infrastructure data and real-time information sources from worldwide datasets. Precise, real-time knowledge of the disposition of their assets allows commanders to manoeuvre combat service support assets as quickly as they manoeuvre combat elements, thereby shaping the battle.
  • Emergence of Network Centric Warfare (NCW): NCW is redefining the future battle-space. In the information age, power is increasingly derived from information sharing, information access and speed. The Indian armed forces are moving fast in this direction. The usage of IT as a force multiplier in warfare stems from the belief that information advantage leads to information superiority eventually enhancing combat effectiveness of platforms. This is achieved by networking of sensors, decision-makers, and shooting platforms, thereby creating shared awareness, speed of command, high-tempo manoeuvre, close coordination and synchronisation during operations resulting in greater lethality, and enhanced combat capabilities. The primary objective of applying modern IT is to enhance battle-space awareness between operational and command elements.
  • Leveraging Modern Telecom Tech: Logisticians will be empowered to provide the right support at the right time and at the right place by leveraging IT with high speed communications based on fiber channels, augmented with satellite and terrestrial communication. Global wireless communications will provide soldiers the capability to reach and ‘see’ virtually anywhere on the battlefield or in the world. A seamless logistics system that ties all parts of the logistics community into one network of shared situational awareness and unified action can be achieved only in an environment dominated by global, wireless, assured communications.

Figure1: Defence Logistics Operations

Requirements of Future Defence Logistics Support
Future logistics support must enable aggressive reduction in the manoeuvre sustainment footprint with fewer vehicles and leverage reach-back capabilities. Ideally, combat forces are empowered by logistics, not encumbered by it. Army logistics need to be flexible in order to cope with the demands of dynamic defence logistics support to the agile and mobile combat forces. Logistics flexibility involves the following:-

  • Structural Flexibility: This will be accomplished through total integration of all the components of army, incorporation of support teams from other services, and industry partners of army. Logistics task forces need to be able to scale up and down in size, as well as in technical expertise.
  • Operational Flexibility: It enhances the ability to deploy and manoeuvre the operational infrastructure of the logistics system. Distribution-based logistics depends on an integrated, intermodal network of information systems, distribution platforms, and automated materials-handling equipment. The logistics units and personnel operating this network must be able to manoeuvre the component systems and control the movement of the distribution platforms on the fly without degrading the throughput.
  • Logical Flexibility: All logistics managers in the supply chain need to think several steps ahead. Additionally, many of the initiatives in the revolution in business affairs that streamline and improve logistics, acquisition and financial processes contribute to this new, heightened agility.
  • Acquisition Flexibility: In order to keep pace with the fast-changing demands of NCW, the acquisition system must support rapid and flexible access to a wide range of commercial sources of supply. The agile acquisition system will also be crucial to designing, building and fielding the advanced systems and modernisation packages. Reduced development cycles will provide state-of-the-art technology to the field forces at a price the nation will be willing to pay.
    • Future logistics systems need to have reduced logistics footprint. The number and type of weapon systems needed by land forces in a battle space to hold and dominate terrain will change, and so will the operational and tactical logistics requirements. Adequate logistics footprint, that focuses directly on combat troops, a seamless logistics system that allows for streamlining redundant support functions and organisations and a transformation from a supply-based to a distribution- based logistics system.

      Dynamically Responsive Defence Logistics
      The way forward for real-time responsive defence logistics is the fusion of geospatial logistics information, IT and transportation technologies for rapid crisis response; deployment and sustainment; the ability to track and shift units, equipment and supplies even while en route, and delivery of tailored logistics packages and sustainment directly to the fighting forces. Distribution within the theatre focusses on establishing distribution management structure and battlefield architecture to maintain visibility and control over the pipeline. The end result of establishing a distribution management structure will be efficiencies gained in transportation and the requisition pipeline, and decreased theatre specific stocking objectives.

      To implement the concept of dynamically responsive defence logistics, the logistics fraternity need to lay emphasis on four areas: a logistics specific data network, a responsive distribution system, a robust modular distribution capability, and an integrated supply chain. A high speed logistics specific data network coupled with application software on GIS platform will provide not only in-transit visibility in real-time but also total asset visibility. This will allow commanders to have bird’s-eye view and accordingly adjust resupply operations while en route, determine supply and maintenance requirements and act appropriately before the critical time, and make the current distribution system truly responsive.

      Framework of Defence Logistics Management System
      Defence logistics management system which is based on IT and GIS aims at improving the capability of information collection, information processing and information utilisation. Sensing layer provides functions of information collection and collaborative information processing, network layer provides the function of information transmitting just-in-time, application layer provides functions which include decision-making assistant, procurement management, warehouse management, transportation management and distribution management to each department of defence logistics.

      • Objective of Defence Logistics Management System: The system aims at providing an information management platform to defence logistics command, defence procurement agency, military depot and military transportation agency, and combining them with suppliers and logistics enterprises by information flow. It also aims at achieving automatic information collection, intelligent information processing, scientific resource configuration and maximum support efficiency by applying Internet of Things technology and GIS.
      • Architecture of Defence Logistics Management System: It includes three layers: Sensing Layer, Network Layer and Application Layer, as shown in Figure 2.

      Functions of Defence Logistics Management System
      The evolution in logistics practices is a continuous phenomenon and has been driving the logistics managers to ensure the required material support to sustain operations in both peace and war.

      • Defence Logistics Decision-Making Assistant: Provided to defence logistics command which includes demand management, potential support capability evaluation and decision-making assistant of material support plan.
      • Procurement Management: Provided to defence procurement agency which includes supplier selection and E-Procurement management.
      • Warehouse Management: Provided to military depot which includes storage location assignment, out-warehouse and in-warehouse management, inventory management, monitoring and control to warehouse’s surroundings.
      • Transportation Management: Provided to military transportation agency which includes vehicle monitoring, transportation planning and routing planning.
      • Distribution Management: Provided to distribution centre which includes distribution planning and loading planning
      • Defence Logistics Operations Monitoring and Control: Provided to defence logistics command. Defence logistics management system records and reviews the operation process to the commander, so the commander can adjust the plan while emergency happens.

      Role of GIS in Logistics Planning
      Today, defence organisations directly embed geospatial capabilities into mainstream C4ISR applications. GIS serves to integrate transportation logistics, real-time tracking and infrastructure data into a single, secure application accessible through the logistic data network with real-time and relevant information.

      Figure 2: Defence Logistics Management System

      GIS based Transportation Logistics, Real-Time Tracking
      Army logisticians have to coordinate the movement of a large number of military vehicles, freight, equipment and personnel throughout the length and breadth of the theatre of operations to support military strategy and tactics. GIS enabled application ensures the following:-

      • IT in conjunction with GIS technology helps in providing a fully secure, web-based multi-component display, reporting and analysis application able to monitor military cargo across the transportation networks and overseas.
      • GIS based system generates highly detailed maps useful for troop and cargo transport. Maps can identify optimal routes and display an array of static and dynamic features.
      • System can also track vehicles/shipments in real-time and even pinpoint the exact location and content. Alerts are provided if cargo deviates from a charted course.
      • GIS based system also caters to emergency response capabilities by illustrating the effects of hazardous materials and/or explosives on a geographic area through state-of-the-art modelling tools.
      • A single interface to visualise assets critical to security such as airports, dams, water plants, bus and commuter rail lines and facilities, nuclear power plants and power grids. This common operating environment can help in improving response time and minimising fatalities during emergency situations and global deployments.

      Real Time Asset Tracking
      There are two challenges to tracking assets in a military environment. First, to constantly have a permanent view of the location of the assets. Second, an alert system to prompt, if they deviate from their prescribed route, especially if they go into a dangerous area. The in-transit visibility of assets, total visibility of assets and inventory is achieved by RFID technology integrated with GIS. Important features of in transit visibility are:-

      • RFID tags are placed on cases and pallets of goods with the purpose of tracking material throughout the supply process. RFID data is then fed to various stakeholders’ systems across the supply chain to achieve a good measure of visibility for supplies, stocks and assets.
      • Initially, RFID required an infrastructure to be put in place locally in the form of RFID readers. The new generation of tags is able to form themselves into adhoc mesh networks that transmit data to each other. In this kind of network, the last tag in a line transmits all the data to back-end systems which manage the data.
      • Next generation wireless technologies will improve and enhance mesh networking technologies which will reduce the size, weight and power requirements of the tags and improve firmware to support data encryption. This will allow mesh to expand into new areas to support new logistics requirements, including a number of new marshalling areas and yards.
      • Mesh tags are placed on vehicles and can talk to other tags in their vicinity which cuts down on the typical investment in RFID infrastructure. Tags have been coupled with terrestrial tracking devices to provide a hybrid or dual- mode system. They take advantage of cheaper terrestrial networks when they are available and then switch to satellite communications when they are out of range of the terrestrial networks.

      Some Common Defence Logistic Operations
      The commanders have to carry out careful planning of a range of activities required to support any military operation in war. Some of them are:

      • Selection of Sites for Launching Bridges: Two types of bridges are generally employed by military. Wet bridges are built across the rivers and large water bodies where these can float. For small water bodies such as canals and drains, dry bridges are provided. However, these bridges have fixed specifications of span, launching slope and bank conditions. Therefore, a suitable site has to be selected to meet these requirements. Selection of ferry sites for crossing the canals and rivers is required so that bridges are constructed over them.
      • Selection of Sites for Helipads: The dimensions of the helipad required for the landing of a helicopter varies from place to place but the ground conditions may nearly be the same as for bridge and ferry sites. For example, the location of a helipad depends upon the tree cover, soil conditions and slope of the ground.
      • Identification of Tactically Important Roads: Roads and tracks that lead up to the likely bridge or ferry site are tactically important and need to be identified and suitably constructed so that these may be used as the axis of maintenance. Ideally these roads should not pass through any obstacle like the minefields.
      • Preparation of Vehicle Mobility Maps: Military vehicles are generally classified into two broad categories, tracked and wheeled. Vehicles like tanks have excellent cross-country mobility due to the presence of tracks over its wheels. However vehicles having wheels but without tracks do need careful route planning before cross-country movement can be attempted. Vehicles carrying essential war stores like ammunition; fuel and other supplies are all wheeled vehicles.

      Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (MCEME) and GIS

      One of the primary roles of the Corps of EME is to carry out recovery of vehicle and equipment casualties during operations. A considerable amount of time and effort is invested each year to work out recovery plans at various formation headquarters. In the absence of a GIS, EME is unable to leverage the benefits of technology. GIS can not only provide information about terrain, relief and features in an area but can also help commanders visualise the terrain precisely.

      MCEME, being a premium training institute of the Indian Army, is in the process of establishing a lab to train students on the techniques of terrain mapping for recovery by utilisation of GIS applications. In this stride, MCEME has taken an initiative in GIS based training and application in the following way:-

      • Establishing a GIS based terrain mapping development lab. It would facilitate visualisation, analysis, querying and editing of geospatial data, 3D visualisation, 3D analysis, 3D editing, raster modelling, watershed analysis, water resource engineering, spread analysis, creation of network datasets, routing applications, etc.
      • MCEME also plans to establish a web server based GIS to host GIS resources on MCEME LAN and allow client applications like web mapping and mobile devices to use and interact with the resources along with spatial analyst, 3D analyst, geo-statistical analyst and network analyst to allow GIS resources across the college web.

      A comprehensive GIS will help EME functionaries in field plan and utilise the resources at their disposal in an optimal manner. Over a period, GIS database can be built so as to give very precise inputs to EME commanders while planning location of recovery resources. Even route to be taken by a recovery vehicle to approach a vehicle/equipment casualty can be planned by appreciating various approaches and obstacles, if any.

      Future warfare operations involving combined efforts of joint forces and an integrated approach for evaluating warzone for marshalling logistics, manoeuvre forces and setting communication network for effective operations in real-time scenario is a necessary prerequisite for successful operations. GIS technology facilitates armed forces, if information is readily available, to various levels involved in operations. RS technology has provided great leap to intelligence units in defence forces to acquire data on enemy activities from eyes in the sky. The use of RS data integrated with geospatial database would become a potent tool for analysing the ground situation in time of war.

      Accurate and timely terrain analysis is the key for today’s fast paced mobile battlefield. Conventional techniques need to be updated due to availability of data products like maps in digital form and high-resolution satellite imagery. The geospatial knowledge based approach for the interpretation of terrain features will prove to be very useful for defence logistics and future war planning.