Home Articles Requirements of a GIS Based Tactical Information System

Requirements of a GIS Based Tactical Information System

Major Sanjay Srivastava
General Staff Officer,
Grade -2, System Analyst,
Project Management Organisation,
Command Information and Decision Support Systems,
Army Headquarters.

1. Technological advances have had a major impact on the modern day battle-field characterised by high degree of movement on a wide front, which demands coordination at various levels of command. The future battle-field milieu will demand rapid acquisition, collation and dissemination of information to enhance battle-field transparency, thereby enabling quick decision making by field commanders at tactical and operational levels. Decision making has become time sensitive and more complex due to increased data flow and multi dimensional inputs. The automated tactical information systems capable of handling vast and varied data have thus become essential for successful conduct of operations. At the operational level there is a requirement for a comprehensive and highly responsive command and control system, fully automated and integrated to accelerate the decision making process and integrate the efforts of battle-field forces to optimise the battle efficiency and thus act as a force multiplier. A military tactical information system will cater for the operational information needs of commanders and staff at all times, i.e, during war and no war scenarios. It can therefore be viewed as an information and decision support system for command and control functions in a field force.

The Activity and Decision Spectrum
2. Battlefield Management is a complex affair. A commander has to maintain situational awareness, execute current operations, monitor own warfighting capability and resources, manage his command and control infrastructure and plan future operations. It involves:-

  1. Maintaining situational awareness.
    1. Managing and exploitation of sensors.
  2. Planning future operations.
    1. Define operational objectives.
    2. Develop courses of action.
    3. Accomplish detailed operational and logistics plan.
    4. Coordinate the plan with in his command.
  3. Executing and monitoring current operations.
    1. Closely monitor ongoing operations.
    2. Dynamically re-plan operations.
    3. Coordinate changes with in his command
  4. Managing the Command and Control Structure.
    1. Managing of people.
    2. Managing of communication networks and information systems.
    3. Ensuring reliable, secure and efficient command and control capability.

3. The commander is assisted by a staff to assist him to perform these functions. These staff can be grouped into three categories:-

  1. General Staff (GS)
  2. Quarter Master (Q)
  3. Adjutant General (A)

4. All activities of the commander and his staff can be decomposed into four functions namely:-

  1. Terrain
  2. Intelligence
  3. Operations
  4. Operational Logistics

5. All the operational activities are a function of location and time. The aim of the decision spectrum involves making available operational resources at the right location at the right time. The decision spectrum comprises of the Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) cycle and the success of battlefield management lies in reducing the time of our OODA cycle while increasing that of the adversary. An automated tactical information system will help to compress this cycle.

Importance of Terrain in Military Ops
6. Almost all plans related to operations, intelligence and logistics are realized on terrain. Terrain is therefore an integral and critical part of all military planning. In defence its importance lies in knowing where(location) enemy has placed his assets and reacting in time to position(location) own forces so as to be able to thwart his plans. In offensive operations it involves knowing where (location) is the weakest point of the enemy so as to be able strike effectively. In order to improve the speed and quality of decisions, the automation of terrain related activities is a pre-requisite. It is therefore necessary to develop a system and technology necessary to create a terrain centered operational visualization environments. GIS and associated technologies of today need tp ready to meet this requirement.

How are Military GIS requirements different?
7. Military decisions effect national security, physical destruction and human lives. It is the last line of defence of a nation. There is therefore no scope for even marginal error. Military planning involve a large diversity of singular civil interest areas. While GIS based civil application focus on a few features and derive thematic layers from these features, military commanders would be interested in performing analyses on the entire layers on a cartographic map. In addition to the tactical symbology is a vast and documented entities in themselves which also form part of a military commanders analysis. In addition military decisions have a lot of subjectivity. These are some of the the main factors that distinctly demarcates between a military GIS application from that of any civil application. GIS is integral to the common operational picture of any military ops. Some tactical information system functions that relate to terrain are:-

  1. Terrain Analysis.
  2. Mission Planning.
  3. Simulation and war gaming.
  4. 3D Visualisations and flythroughs.
  5. Battlefield Models.
  6. Intelligence building.

8. Terrain Analysis – Terrain analysis is the prelude to any military planning. Some military applications related to terrain analysis in conjunction with GIS and remote sensing are:-

  1. Assessment of suitability of ground for deployment of a resource.
  2. Identify important areas of tactical significance.
  3. Preparation/generation of going maps for vehs.
  4. Cross country movement analysis.
  5. Analysis of natural obstacles which affect military maneuver.

9. Mission Planning. The terrain functionalities of a mission planning are:-

  1. Subset and earmark areas of responsibilities.
  2. Allocate/reallocate tactical resources on terrain.
  3. Monitor and progress of resources involved in operations
  4. Provide common operating picture through integrated visualisation.
  5. Provide decision support options.
  6. Capture sift, sort and broadcast information.


10. Simulation and Wargaming. Operational information simulations would involve generation of 2D and 3D scenerios on a terrain backdrop which work on a database powered by what if analysis applications. These may be developed on databases or KB systems. Aim of these operational functions is to analyse enemy and own courses and situation reactions of decision making.

11. 3D Visualisation and flythroughs. Visualising a 3D terrain implies being able to read the enemies mind. Towards this end 3D visualizations are an absolute necessity. They facilitate military planners to feel and relate the ground in real world sense. 3D visualizations provide valuable information with respect to interpretation of slopes and gradients for formulating attack or defence plans or even planning air support missions.

12. Battlefield models. These are “what if” analysis simulations with an active terrain model backdrop. Some possible battlefield model applications are:-

  1. Inundation Models. To analyse the effect of breeching a water body like dam, river or canal as a part of military operations.
  2. Avalanche Models. To analyse effect of triggering an avalanche.
  3. WMD models. To study the effect of WMD on a location.
  4. Sensor models. Generation of spatial coverage and dead zones based on sensor characteristics.
  5. Prediction models. These are based on real time monitoring of entities to predict future location and time frames related to military planning.

13. Intelligence. Intelligence building is a highly data intensive. It involves collection and interpretation of the data to infer information. Automated intelligence functions require time and location stamped data powered by data mining techniques and inference engines to be able to provide ‘meaning’ to the data. GIS technology provides the means to be able to seamlessly integrate the data from various sources and plot it in conjunction with digital maps thereby providing visual inference. A few GIS powered intelligence applications are as given below:-

  1. Capture time and location stamped entities for replay in order to interpret enemy plans.
  2. Real time monitoring of enemy entities through fusion of sensors on terrain powered by an appropriate GIS application.
  3. Fusion of thematic layers (overlays) of enemy tactical entities vs terrain, tactical entities vs own appreciation overlays.
  4. Analyse pattern of enemy actions.
  5. Analyse what has changed ie trend analysis.
  6. Prediction models to predict likely enemy courses.

System Requirements Complexities
14. It can be seen that the diversity of requirements of a GIS based tactical information system has a rich variety of GIS applications and no single GIS software can singularly meet all the requirements. The need for seamless integration to a heterogeneous GIS data sources demands an interoperable system. Further, an operational information system data will need to be propagated to and fro across a large no of service users. These users will be distributed over a network of server and clients and therefore such systems need to be driven by well defined application exchange protocols and standards. The clients are visualized to be “rich” or “thin” depending on the role of the user. Moreover some clients like the commanders themselves will be laptop or PDA based mobile subscribers. Further, such systems must have a modular design with a capacity to plug in more intuitive GIS applications with passage of time (scalability). Yet another significant complexity lies in the fact that in civil implementation three tier designs database and application servers locations are fixed. Military requirements demand frequent move of physical entities and for reasons of security and vastness of area of operations such database and application servers also have to be moved from one LAN to another. Within the software domain itself the sheer vastness of requirements of a GIS based tactical information system demands compatibility to a number of GIS related technologies like:-

  1. Computer-Aided Design Systems
  2. Database Management Systems
  3. Statistical Analysis Systems
  4. Computer Cartography Systems
  5. Desktop Mapping Systems
  6. Remote Sensing Systems
  7. Location services of the Global Positioning Systems

 15. Summarily, a military based GIS based tactical information system will need to have the following system features:-

  1. Facility to intake large digital geographic information.
  2. Facility to exploit data from a variety of data sources.
  3. Handle variety of attribute data ie demographic and tactical.
  4. Wide range of thematic composition and analysis.
  5. Capability to store and handle thematic apperception.
  6. Powerful and flexible attribute query facilities.
  7. Utilities and tools for 2D and 3D GIS model analysis. Integrate with GPS based location services.

Existing Technologies that assist Design
16. Three tier GIS based solution is one recommended design for a GIS based tactical information system. The business tier should support enterprise server that house both data management GIS subsystem but also mapping and spatial analysis subsystems. Distributed users can be reached across networks by the use of web GIS technology. Users can access data across the network and process it through application programming interfaces (APIs) based on open standards like XML and GML. RDBMS are needed to support the distributed database. Adoption of GIS system based on three tier architecture is recommended to facilitate scalability at minimum costs.

17. The GIS software should be open GIS compliant. It must preferably lend itself to customisation through APIs. Interoperability is a key concern for a GIS based tactical information system. Typically and thankfully in our country Survey of India is the single mapping agency thereby inherently standardizing digital map data. This freezes the input data domain for GIS software. There is, however, a need for the defence services to have their own standardized graphic and attribute format and structure as also standard spatial data exchange formats for GIS implementation as is the practice in advanced militaries of the world. Standardised data models will help to not only ease organizing data to conform to military analysis needs; it will also help to achieve GIS system interoperability.

Military GIS Trends
17. Military GIS driven tactical information systems are available only with a few advanced countries of the world. For obvious reasons the freedom of availability of military GIS software and applications is restricted by the governments of countries holding such military systems. The present trend across the world is therefore to customise military applications over a “Commercial off the Shelf” (COTS) GIS software. These software almost completely meet military requirements but not in a very efficient way. There advantages of the current trend are:-

  1. Leads to a fast track development of GIS based automated systems.
  2. Time tested COTS GIS software is stable for GIS parameters like coordinate transformations, multiple projection handling and datum conversions.
  3. Generally, standard COTS software is open GIS compliant leading to ease in interoperability of GIS data across one or more systems thereby obviates the need to develop indigenous translators.
  4. The industry is responsible to develop of software updates and versioning.
  5. User driven market hence greater choice during selection of software.

18. However, market forces drive commercial software and there are some serious limitations of developing a GIS based tactical information system for military use based on COTS software. These are:-

  1. IPR of COTS vests with the industry and thus it is not adaptable to internal modifications.
  2. Since COTS cater for a multitude of user domain they are bulky. The customised application may be utilizing only a part of the COTS.
  3. User has to pay for functionalities that his customised application may never utilize.
  4. COTS proliferation is generally restricted to cities and metropolitans It is difficult for COTS companies to provide customer support to field areas where these systems are intended to be used.
  5. Licensing policies are subject to changing political and market conditions which are detrimental for such high security applications.
  6. Purchase of a good GIS software does not guarantee a good military tactical information system application just a branded cloth material does not guarantee a good suit. There is high dependency on the tailor (in this case the customising agent and system integrator) thereby increasing the risk factor.

Future GIS Trends for The Military
19. The nation needs an indigenous military GIS. The indigenous military software has to be based on light integrable GIS objects which lend themselves to a high degree of customisation. These objects will to work on indigenously developed kernels which will take control of the operating system after system bootup thereby increasing application processing speeds. However, the prelude to development of a military GIS is setting of indigenous GIS standards through a centralized nodal agency. This agency will have to address the following standardization issues:-

  1. Provides a standard graphic and non-graphic (database) format and structure for GIS implementations.
  2. Provides a “proprietary” standard design for use with commercially available “off-the-shelf” GIS and relational database software.
  3. Formulate geospatial related data standards.
  4. Provide a GIS implementation schema for approved geospatial related data standards.
  5. Provide a standardised grouping of geo-referenced (geospatial) features (i.e., features which can be depicted graphically on a map at their geographic location (coordinate).
  6. Prepare standard attribute tables containing pertinent data about the geospatial feature.

20. The participative involvement of the industry in development of indigenous military GIS is an inherent requirement. Defence services are a large untapped market for the GIS industry. There is a large window of opportunity waiting to be exploited.