Modernisation of armed forces: Military survey and GIS

Modernisation of armed forces: Military survey and GIS


<< Military Survey is responsible for providng the forces with maps of border areas. The author argues that not only is the agency not focussing on its primary task, but is also continuing to use outdated methods and technology to prepare maps… >>

Military Survey of the Indian Army and Survey of India (SoI) both owe their origin to the erstwhile British Indian Empire. Map Policy of India lays down that mapping within the country is the responsibility of SoI. However, Military Survey continues to be involved more internally rather than focussing on trans-border mapping. Technology adaptation in SoI has gone way ahead of Military Survey, whereas, it should have logically been the other way around. Presently, Military Survey is some 30 years behind in meeting even existing routine mapping requirements of the military, whereas large scale mapping requirements of say 1:5,000 and below is practically not being met at all, which are vital to Operational Information Systems being introduced into Military Survey and GIS the military, particularly the Army. The development of a specific methodology for preparation of 1:10,000 scale or larger maps with the use of advanced technologies such as remote sensing, GPS and GIS in an integrated way, is the need of the hour.

Military Survey was formally raised under Military Intelligence during World War II. It was later brought under the Military Operations Directorate as MO (GS GS). Over the years, Military Survey had cells in Military Intelligence Directorate, Engineer-in-Chief’s branch, Artillery Directorate and College of Military Engineering, and survey branches/ cells/ sections at command, corps and divisional headquarters level. The British legacy of having system of reverse deputation with SoI continues. Military Survey also has a direct link with the Ministry of Science and Technology and annual confidential reports of top level officers of Military Survey are endorsed by this ministry.

Military Survey, as the designation suggests, is to provide maps to all the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force. In addition, it also provides maps to the paramilitary forces, central armed police forces and police organisations on demand from the Ministry of Home Affairs. When the Indian Peace Keeping Force went into Sri Lanka, maps with the Sri Lankan Military were found to be superior to those with the Indian Army. The situation after 30 years more or less remains the same. Also when, the Indian Military went into Maldives on request by the Maldivian President, Military Survey had no maps to offer. Ironically, the Director R&AW could only offer a tourist map. As a result, even the paradrop on Male airfield was planned on a tourist map, which luckily was not required as air landings were eventually possible.

Recent Times
In May 2004, Military Survey was brought under the newly created Directorate General of Information Systems (DGIS) under express sanction of the Defence Minister to ensure inclusive development and deployment of Operational Information Systems (OIS), Management Information Systems (MIS) and GIS. The need to shift from Platform Centric Operations to Net Centric Operations had brought into focus vital issues. Net Centric Warfare (NCW) has the critical requirement for integration of operational and tactical information and knowledge with reference to terrain for precise targeting. Battlefield management requires coordination between units, formations, other services and multiple government agencies. Real-time geographical visualisation of the battlefield scenario on a network is required, and that is possible through the exploitation of geospatial data obtained from multiple sensors located in space or on aerial, ground, sub-surface and other platforms. Commonality of data and standards for defence services is an imperative. The tasks assigned to Military Survey include trans-frontier mapping, updating maps with satellite imagery, creation of GIS, creation of digital topographical database, preparation of Defence Series Maps (DSMs), large scale mapping, training on GIS and attribute data collection, photogrammetric survey and RS, and the like. For Military Survey, the requirement to introduce an Enterprise GIS became paramount, as also did the requirements of large scale mapping in meeting increasing demands of the upcoming OIS. Trans-frontier mapping responsibility that was earlier up to 300 km depth across the border was increased to a depth of 5000 km by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) apparently to meet requirements of the Strategic Forces Command.

As we move closer towards operating in a fully automated digitised battlefield, there is a need to review the way digital maps and imagery need to be organised and processed for seamless functionality at both strategic and operational levels. All battlefield management systems are inherently dependent on a robust GIS. The GIS applications require geospatial base data in terms of digitised maps, imagery, attributes and so on, before it can deliver results to the user. This base data can be considered as the blackboard on which users create their mission-specific overlays. In a GIS environment, the user should be able to carry out a number of 2D and 3D analysis functions purely using the base data. Therefore, the quality of the base data in terms of spatial accuracy and the level of attached attribute data, the structure and format of the digitised data and in case of topographical maps, the datum and projections used, assume great significance.

Technology, policies, standards and resources are necessary to acquire, process, store, distribute and improve utilisation of geospatial data for military purposes. Therefore, the need to establish a Defence Spatial Data Infrastructure (DSDI) is never so urgent especially when a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) has already been established though its integration with concerned government ministries and agencies is still a long way off. Military Survey had expanded over the years with Centre for Automated Military Survey (CAMS), Army Digital Mapping Centre (ADMC), Defence Institute for Geospatial Management and Training (DIGIT), a Field Survey Group and a Ground Air Survey Liaison (GASL) platoon, latter providing aerial cover for survey.

Functioning Under DGIS
Merger of Military Survey with DGIS brought out a host of shortcomings, some of which were: techniques used for production of maps were archaic; Google Map downloading was being resorted to as base data; there was more focus on the own side of the border rather than transborder; the organisation and entire focus (following the British legacy) was on physical survey within own borders, however, even this had not been done for decades in counterinsurgency areas of J&K and in the north-east despite presence of army in all such areas; demands for satellite imagery were forwarded to Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) through Military Intelligence but were never followed up and Defence Series Maps (DSM) were being prepared without incorporating satellite imagery; patrol reports of various army patrols in difficult areas were ignored for updating maps; the Field Survey Group and GASL platoon of Military Survey placed at Agra, with Air Force providing aerial sorties, basically met requirements of SoI and yet SoI was charging money for maps it gave to the Military Survey but in turn was not being charged for the air sorties and the related establishment; little effort was being put in towards digitisation of maps integrating satellite imagery and photography, exploiting advanced technologies and introduction of a GIS; no GIS policy and common symbology for the three services had been evolved; there were sustained voids of survey trained officers in Military Survey spanning over a decade.

With an aim of introducing an Enterprise GIS, a tri-Service study was ordered in 2007 to examine nuances for establishing an Enterprise GIS for the Military, which took more than a year because of turf battles. On conclusion of this study, a GIS Policy with common symbology for the military was issued in 2009. Concurrently, a Request for Proposal (RFP) to establish an Enterprise GIS was floated by DGIS in mid-March 2009 but was not followed up. More importantly, considering the organisational and output oriented shortcomings of Military Survey, an Army Study for Reorganization of Military Survey was ordered, which was headed by Major General K Surendranath, then Additional Director General, Mechanized Forces at Army HQ. Study members included representatives of the Military Secretary, Military Intelligence, Engineers Branch, Military Survey, PMO Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) under DGIS, DIPAC, Naval Intelligence and Air Intelligence. Main issues to be addressed by the study were: reorganisation of Military Survey units in the backdrop of available global technology and modern techniques; examine existing system of mapping, map updating, digitisation and how updating can be speeded up through reorganisation; examine the role of Military Survey in attribute data collection; officer management; rationalisation of existing manpower; changes in present trade structure; human resources development and present training capability, need for establishing DSDI and road map for proposed restructuring. Some of the findings and recommendations of this study were on the following lines:

  • Output of Military Survey’s archaic mammoth organisation, with an authorised strength of 112 officers, 319 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), 1,033 other ranks and 89 civilians, in no way met military requirements.
  • DIGIT was functioning on ad hoc basis with very limited capability.
  • Existing units of Military Survey were functioning on different structures with varying capability, which need to be addressed.
  • With same roles, there was considerable duplication of manpower and equipment between the GIS cells of Military Survey at command, corps and divisional headquarter levels and the IIITs working under General Staff Branch of respective HQs.
  • GIS Cells at Formation HQs were no more than storekeepers of printed maps.
  • Amalgamation of the GIS and IIIT cells was warranted and would accrue in considerable savings in manpower, equipment, and costs besides improving efficiency.
  • There was a vital requirement to change Military Survey into an All Arms organisation.
  • There is a definite need to replace the Military Survey officers at the field formation level by All Arms officers.
  • Numerous trades in Military Survey could be reduced to two.
  • Military Survey must visualise future operational requirements and cater infusing new survey equipment and technology.
  • Emerging technologies like digital photogrammetry using digital aerial photo/ high resolution imagery/ UAV inputs, mobile data capture in field using PC tablets, gravity and geo-magnetic surveys, Airborne Laser Terrain Mapping (ALTM)/ LiDAR survey, online data transfer for updation/ web enabled services, GIS applications and services, digital cartography and hi-tech digital planning need to be incorporated.
  • Periodicity of updating of maps should be increased to 2-3 years instead of the current 10-15 years.
  • Large scale mapping is a must for future NCW requirements.
  • Establishment of the DSDI is an essential operational requirement, which should be preceded by an Enterprise GIS.

The study made operationally vital reorganisational recommendations and the study report having been approved, was sent to concerned directorates for implementation. However, vested interests have apparently managed to put this into the freezer because implementation of the report meant: induction of All Arms Cadre officers in Military Survey; Military Survey officers in field formations replaced by All Arms Cadre officers; amalgamation of GIS Cells and IIITs at formation HQ level would curtail the Military Survey’s empire. As it is, the lopsided arrangement continues – the GIS Cell functioning at Formation HQ level is not under the GS Branch but continues to be under the local Engineer unit.

Current Scene
In 2011, Military Survey was reverted to Military Operation for some inexplicable reason. More significantly, in June 2013, a fresh study for Reorganization of Military Survey has been ordered, Lt Gen K Surendranath (who had done the previous study) having superannuated from service on May 31, 2013. The current scene is:

  • Military Survey has washed off its hands from progressing the GIS/ Enterprise GIS on the plea that it is a General Staff (GS) issue. This is despite the fact that that it should actually be their bread and butter since they are now part of Military Operations which is the topmost GS Branch and Military Survey itself mans MO (GS GS).
  • Non-establishment of an Enterprise GIS despite the RFP for it in 2009 is adversely affecting development and fielding of Operational Information Systems. Military Operations located in South Block has little time and inclination to push Military Survey into progressing the Enterprise GIS.
  • Military Survey activity is back to the confines of paper maps and continues to lag behind military requirements even in this.

The MoD and the military need to take a call on the following:-

  • The ‘reverse deputation’ of the British era should be replaced with a simple three years deputation with SoI. The circumstances under which the British started this process do not exist anymore. There should be a vertical split between the Military Survey and Ministry of Science and Technology, with former brought under the MoD through Integrated HQ MoD (Army).
  • The army study on Restructuring of Military Survey which was approved in 2009 should be implemented, reasons for its nonimplementation in last four years examined and the second study ordered in June 2013 scrapped.
  • Not only should Military Survey be made an All Arms organisation, it should be headed by a General Cadre officer.
  • Military Survey should be placed under the DGIS without further loss of time, as was envisaged and approved by the Defence Minister in 2004.
  • Development and fielding of an Enterprise GIS and establishment of DSDI needs accelerated focus.
  • Vision for Military Survey must include provision of real-time and accurate geospatial data and services for network centric applications across the entire spectrum of conflict.
  • An in-depth analysis should be done to meet the mapping (including large scale mapping), digitisation, imagery and GIS requirements of the military keeping in mind the fielding of OIS and enhanced missile ranges, and a road map worked out to leapfrog large mapping voids.

As we carry out transition from the platform centric approach to a network centric, it is essential for us to understand the strengths and the limitations of the available technology to harness its full potential. Geospatial data and its exploitation remain central to any battlefield management system and as such, understanding the complexities of various elements of this type of data becomes imperative. Organising the base geospatial data is in itself a major task. Its further exploitation would remain a major challenge unless all users come to a common framework. Development of any common geographic reference framework is essentially a triservice responsibility and can only be undertaken in conjunction with agencies responsible for production of geographic data. In our case too, the three services are using maps based on differing datums and projections. Even within individual services, standardisation with regard to maps, imagery and user generated symbology is yet to take place. Issues regarding procedures to be adopted on zone boundaries between the zones of our projected coordinate system have to be worked out. Unless these aspects are addressed collectively by the three services, results from applications developed for C4I2 systems will remain unpredictable, especially during joint operations. It is therefore imperative that the issue of common reference framework for geospatial data is addressed on priority. Military Survey has a major role to play in all this and needs to get its act together.