The engineering support plan of the Indian Army involves the deployment of repair detachments and recovery resources in accordance with the operational plans and other logistics plans. A comprehensive repair and recovery grid is set up with a control center for monitoring and coordinating various engineering support activities. There is also a requirement for each formation and unit to coordinate with the neighboring formations and units as well as with other paramilitary forces deployed in the same area. The plans also need to take into account the availability of civilian resources in the area of operations. These multiple requirements could only be comprehensively met by fusing information from all sources and extracting suitable intelligence from these inputs.
Accordingly, a project was undertaken to customize an open source GIS software to digitally capture the repair and recovery grid of the formations and to be used in the control center.
The terms of reference envisaged for the project included use of open source GIS software which was widely used in academia and government organizations; the ability of the software to run without the need to connect to Internet; datasets from open source or those supplied through regular sources; and use of raster and digital maps obtained from reliable sources. The scope of the software was envisaged as the representation, visualization, analysis and monitoring during operations on digital maps of recovery grid including the recovery posts and their resources, capabilities and beats; repair grid including distribution of manpower and other resources; vehicle casualty and their subsequent monitoring till their recovery; other important locations of paramilitary forces like Assam Rifles (AR), CRPF and BSF; and location and availability of civilian repair and recovery resources.
GIS for recovery and repair
The representation of recovery and repair grid on digital maps using GIS software would have given advantages, such as accurate representation of recovery and repair grid along with recovery resources. It would also enable monitoring of recovery and repair activities at the control center, and analysis of engineering support activities, quick identification of gaps in recovery grid, if any. These gaps could be in terms of space or in terms of time. Further, while the availability of powerful desktop PCs and open source GIS software like QGIS and GRASS makes the whole project cost effective, there were also advantages like easier coordination with the recovery grid of neighboring formations, consolidation and establishment of comprehensive recovery grid, knowledge management of recovery and repair plan and documentation of engineering support activities, and integrated view of engineering support plan and other operational and logistics plans.
The existing geospatial information stored in different sources like PowerPoint, Word and Excel documents were collated along with map inputs — both raster and vector maps to form an integrated view. The information obtained from operation plans, logistics plans and other connected resources were fused along with the geospatial information on a GIS platform to form accurate geo intelligence. The GIS platform would thus enable us to critically analyse the engineering support plan to support the operational plans and also help in validation with the other logistics plans.
After an analysis of the existing GIS software, QGIS was selected for implementation as it is free and open source, and is widely used in academia and government organisations. Moreover, it is compliant to Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards for interoperability with any other GIS software.
Vector data files for India in the form of roads, places, points, railways and waterways downloaded from and raster data of the area from Google Maps downloaded using Maps downloader software.
GIS has been included in the syllabus of courses conducted by the Army. QGIS has been identified as the GIS software for many of these courses and hence trained manpower would also be available for its implementation.
Setting up the base layers
The raster map for the area was converted into geo-referenced tiff file and formed the base layer for GIS software. The vector layers consisting of roads, points, places, waterways, buildings for the area were added as separate layers. The Coordinate Reference System used was WGS84. Vector layers were added to represent information pertaining to operational aspects. The relevant information was either extracted from the base layers or digitized based on ground survey.
Representation of workshops and repair detachments along with manpower, machinery and other material were deployed. Recovery detachments consisted of light recovery vehicles and deployment of heavy recovery resources. The locations and details of recovery posts (RPs) were added as a vector layer after extraction of relevant information from the base ‘points’ and ‘places’ vector layer.
The beats of responsibility of the recovery detachments were identified on the vector layer of the roads, extracted and converted to another vector layer. The demarcation of beats of various detachments were prepared on the extracted layer using different colors for easy identification. The detailed information of different detachments were captured to include manpower, their contact details, unit, vehicles along with vehicle numbers, etc.
The information of vehicle and equipment casualty received in the control center were added directly or entered using a text file. The data in the text file was automatically imported and mapped onto the recovery grid. This not only brings out the nearest recovery post to the casualty, but also can depict and track the status of various casualties at any point in time.
The GIS-based software, which has been used for planning the deployment of repair and recovery resources can also be used at the control center during operations to monitor the progress of repair and recovery activities. Availability of smartphones would enable the drivers and other persons to report the latitude and longitude of the damaged equipment which can then be plotted on the digitized maps and allotted control numbers. The status of these equipment can then be progressed till completion. Fusion of other information which are relevant like location of medical aid posts, hospitals, military traffic check posts, etc., are also being added. This would be a continuous process and would result in evolution of the complete logistics plan on the same GIS platform.
Simplify, ease and reduce efforts
The use of GIS software by the maintenance organization of the Army is a step to simplify, ease and reduce the efforts in plotting, representing and monitoring of recovery and repair activities during operations. It will also serve as an important tool for knowledge management during peace time. The software also helps in mapping all repair and recovery resources in the area, including civilian and paramilitary forces and getting an integrated view for their efficient utilization. A consolidated view of the recovery grid also helps in identifying gaps and clearly demarcating responsibilities especially at inter-formation boundaries.