Home Articles The Importance of GIS in Battlefield Surveillance

The Importance of GIS in Battlefield Surveillance

Major Jagmohan Singh
General Staff Officer-2
Project Management Organisation
Battlefield Surveillance System
Army Headquarters

1. The ability to strike first, strike deep and strike effectively is of paramount importance for gaining success in operations of war. The manifestation of this ability in a battlefield requires not only firepower in terms of lethal and long-range weapon system but also an effective command and control system, which is essential for accurate and timely application of firepower. The modern warfare is very complex, multidimensional and highly dynamic. Time is a critical factor for planning, preparation and execution of operations. The existing system of information acquisition, processing, dissemination and decision making is largely manual, thus making it slow. The army commanders need timely actionable information- right information, at the right time, at the right location – with any device with which they can make effective decisions and take immediate decisions.

2. Battlefield Surveillance is one of the most important force multipliers which are essential for winning the future battles. Modern techniques in handling and processing the vast information are getting more user friendly and useful to the decision makers in the armed forces. Geographical Information System (GIS) is a widely accepted visualization tool that presents data in a graphic form, which is a convenient and effective means of communicating complex information. These systems also have vast amount of relevant spatial and non spatial data existing as different layers of information that can be expressed as a map. The integration of GPS and GIS brings into existence a powerful tool that has location and visualization aspects and can be effectively utilized in battle field surveillance systems. GPS-GIS integrated systems provide real time meaningful location and status of various enemy assets and related infrastructure. Most of the countries in the world are taking initiatives in modernizing their Armies in order to keep respectable pace with fast changing battlefield scenarios in modern technological environment.

3. The aim of this paper is to highlight the importance of GIS and related technologies in the field of Battlefield Surveillance.

Concept of Battlefield Surveillance
5. The concept of battlefield surveillance is primarily based on obtaining knowledge of the battlefield as it exists at a particular time and the capability to detect changes which will indicate the intentions of the en. The capability to look deep into the en territory to gauge his proposed action plan and deployment gives own forces a cutting edge in the form of proactive action.

6. Effect of Futuristic Battlefield Environment on Surveillance. An accurate visualization of the future battlefield is essential for ensuring that the surveillance system functions within the parameters of the battlefield environment. The major factors which would have effect on the battlefield surveillance are as follows:-

  1. Non-Linearity of the Battlefield. The battlefield of the future is likely to be non-linear, involving simultaneous conduct of operations in all parts of the battlefield, including the contact, tactical, operational and strategic zones. This factor dictates that surveillance capability need to be extended to include the contact and depth zones up to the area of interest of various units and formations.
  2. Fluidity of the Battlefield. Increased mobility, improved communications and better aids to decision making will confer a much greater degree of fluidity on the future battlefield. This implies that targets would offer very little time for reaction by our combat and fire support elements. There would hence exist a need for real time or near real time surveillance and retaliation capability.
  3. Degradation of Enemy versus Occupation of Ground. It is likely that operations on the future battlefield would be more related to activities and presence of the enemy rather than to terrain. The emphasis of operations is likely to shift progressively towards destruction of the enemy rather than occupation of ground. Therefore, the concept of sensor shooter integration would have more relevance in future battlefields.
  4. Integrated Battlefield. The future battlefield is likely to be integrated in terms of time, space, weapons and C3I systems. This factor imposes a need for the surveillance system to function within a framework of integration with other systems.
  5. Battlefield Transparency. The battlefield surveillance would play a major role in the decision making in the future battles. Employment of satellites and aerial assets would prove to be a decisive factor. GIS technologies would be employed extensively for processing the large amount of information and delivering it to the decision makers in the desired format in acceptable time frame.

7. Surveillance Sensors and Platforms. A single sensor system cannot detect all types of targets or monitor all types of events or meet the spatial, temporal and tactical surveillance requirements in the modern warfare. Since a single sensor will not be able to perform all the roles, the future battlefield surveillance systems would need to be based on mix of various sensors possessing different capabilities. In a multi sensor environment a mix of both ground based and airborne sensors will be employed to acquire information about the movement and deployment of enemy’s combat forces in the battle area of responsibility. This information would be in the form of text as well as imagery depending upon the type of sensor. The surveillance sensors which would provide depth surveillance in battlefield surveillance systems are satellites, airborne surveillance systems, heliborne surveillance systems, UAVs, battlefield surveillance radars, weapon locating radars, long range electro optical sensors, sound ranging systems etc.

8. A range of strategic and tactical intelligence assets will need to be interfaced with future battlefield surveillance systems. Battlefield surveillance systems will process information obtained through human intelligence (HUMINT) imagery intelligence (IMINT) and intelligence obtained through radio/electronic sensors. The resultant intelligence related to enemy activity will then be superimposed on an electronic map that would give better visualization to the decision makers.

9. Decision making. The battlefield surveillance systems would necessarily have three main actions. The first part is collection of Intelligence on enemy activities and dispositions by employing various sensors and agencies. Once data has been received, it must be molded into useful information. Therefore, the processing of the data into usable information is the second related action. Since there are multiple ways of detecting a specific event, it may take redundant data to verify that an event is actually taking place. With the advent of multiple sensor platforms in the battlefield, such data rates will be increasing exponentially. The third action is making the decisions on the basis of processed information. A decision can be made through a system by a commander, or by a system using artificial intelligence that can react to predefined or loosely defined characteristics. All the above actions are critical for taking sound decisions. The integration of GIS technologies with future battlefield surveillance systems would enable the commanders to rely on the accuracy of the decision making.

Automation and Data Fusion
10. The manual information processing system is not suitable for future conflicts for two main reasons. Firstly, the dynamics of battlefield will demand near real time combat intelligence which the system cannot provide even if it is fully streamlined and it works at its peak efficiency. Secondly, the proliferation of sensors and fluid battlefield situation will generate enormous volume of information which will be humanly impossible to process. It is therefore imperative to develop a fully automated system for data processing which can receive information from directly interfaced sensors, carry out target identification and situation assessment and present to commanders a cohesive picture of battlefield in near real time. The automated system will also assist in sensors management which includes deployment/redeployment of sensors and their tasking.

11. MSDF. Multi Sensor Data Fusion (MSDF) is very critical for analyzing the accuracy and the confirmation of the collected information. It is a multilevel, multifaceted process dealing with detection, association, correlation and combination of data and info from multiple sources to achieve refined state and target identity, complete and timely assessment of sit and threat. Sensors will acquire information about targets and events in specified areas. These targets and events would be tactically related. But due to different spatial and temporal references, information from each sensor will appear incomplete and disjointed if it is processed in isolation. Therefore, the dedicated sensors will be integrated into an appropriate surveillance centre at respective level where information from each sensor need to be fused together to determine target identity and parameters to extract meaningful combat information and carry out situation analysis. It may be carried out at the central processor by means of automated software in GIS environment. This would also require artificial intelligence and knowledge base support to enable refinement of the battlefield picture.

12. Information Processing. Though developed nations have taken a lead in automating their battlefield surveillance systems to a certain extent, the developing countries have just commenced this process. At present most of the armies in the world use the surveillance centres which function on manual/semi automated system. With the emergence of GIS technologies and related software, the emphasis has gone on developing fully automated surveillance systems so that the response time is reduced and meaningful combat information is available in near real time. It will also facilitate the exchange/transfer of information and data within the various sub systems of the decision making system. Some of the automated process carried out at the surveillance centre are :-

  1. Surveillance planning.
  2. Sensor management.
  3. Multi Sensor Data Fusion (MSDF).
  4. Target Identification.
  5. Situation Assessment.
  6. Artillery Target Intelligence.
  7. Counter Bombardment (CB) process.
  8. Enemy Artillery situation assessment.
  9. Direction of Own Arty Fire (DOOAF).
  10. Post Strike Damage Assessment (PSDA).

GIS Integration

13. Geographical Information Technology. The GIS and its related technologies would have major effect on future battlefield surveillance systems. It is because the GIS have the capability to enable the capture of the battlefield situation and present the comprehensive picture in a simple manner. Various other technologies developed independent of the GIS are now converging together to form a “Geographical Information Technology”, which has further enhanced the power of GIS. The following components of the Geographical Information Technology become the base for effective battlefield surveillance:-

  1. Spatial Analysis.
  2. Remote Sensing and the Digital Photogrametry.
  3. Database Management.
  4. Networking and Internet.
  5. Digital Cartography.
  6. 3 D Visualisation of Terrain.
  7. Global Positioning System.

14. Application of GIS for Battlefield Surveillance. GIS has been developed into powerful system with various functionalities which make it very easy for the user to utilise spatial and non spatial data. GIS lends itself to customisation and allows analysis and query of entities located in the battlefield, whether terrain or combat. Some amount of Decision Support utilising Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Based techniques can be built into the system. Specific GIS functionalities which are of importance from the point of view of battlefield surveillance are:-

  1. Data Fusion. The capability to fuse the data received from variety of sensors pays huge dividends in terms of time and accuracy of information. The GIS is able to accept and display data in different forms. It enables the user to use variety of data such as maps (Raster and Vector), Tabular data having spatial and non spatial content, Imagery (Air Photo and Satellite) etc. Integration of GPS with sensors and other GIS systems makes it further fruitful. This feature of the GIS enables the fusing and extraction of worthwhile intelligence of the disposition and location of opposing forces.
  2. Display of Spatial Data. GIS enables display of the fused data received from various sensors, units and headquarters for display to commanders and staff. This capability helps in planning the future courses of action after visualising enemy’s likely intentions.
  3. Spatial Analysis. The processed and displayed information of the battlefield can be analysed and used to provide Decision Support to commanders and Staff at all levels and can be used for planning and execution of missions.
  4. Database Management. Most GIS software have powerful inbuilt Database Managers which enable manipulation and organisation of large amounts of data internally. This facility enables the user to import tables and associate them with map entities.
  5. Visualisation of Terrain and 3D Analysis. A major requirement from military point of view is the 3D visualisation of terrain in the area of responsibility. This particular requirement can be fulfilled by the GIS. It is possible to visualise terrain in 3D with the help of Digital Elevation Models. This helps in planning of sensor deployment and related activities.
  6. Image Processing. The Image processing capability enables the Intelligence Staff at Headquarters to analyse and extract intelligence from air photos and satellite imageries. This facility can also be made use of to brief commanders and troops at all levels and familiarise them with their areas of responsibilities, apart from being used for planning and execution of missions

Focus Areas for Development
15 MSDF. MSDF in near real time is a complex technique and will require a fully automated system. Different types of inputs from plethora of surveillance sensors and intelligence agencies, makes the task of data fusion more difficult, specially when information is received directly through interfaces. Though requisite developmental efforts are put in by various developing agencies, a lot more needs to be done in this field.

16. Artificial Intelligence. The concept of using computers for making important decisions has been on the anvil for a long time. Neural cells are being utilised to make smart decisions. However, the acquisition and processing of huge amount of information received from different sources and relating it with the large databases to deduce inferences is a difficult task. This is further complicated by requirement of relating tactical and doctrinal issues to reach a worthwhile decision on enemy intentions. There is need to focus more developmental efforts in developing artificial intelligence in decision making.

17. Interoperability. Presently most of the GIS applications are having the problems of interoperability. In order to meet the requirements of the customers, the software should be able to operate with each other across the board over different networks with different types of machines running on different Operating Systems or operating on different networking protocols. Similarly all components of any Tactical C3I should be able to work with each other with ease even if their application software is based on different GIS. However certain basic conditions may need to be met such as uniform database structures, common exchange format and common military symbol library etc.

18. GIS Exchange Format. All GIS have their own native file formats. These formats are unique to the GIS for which they are designed. Most of these formats have been developed for general use by civilian organisations in the field like cartography, town planning, remote sensing, statistical survey etc. However, these formats do not cater for special requirements of military use. There is a requirement to devise data exchange format to meet the needs of military users.

19 Transparency of the battlefield will be a critical factor influencing the outcome of future battles. Battlefield transparency would provide a framework for `scientific’ and deliberate decision making. The dependence of commanders on paper maps and sand models for operational planning will have to be replaced by the latest GIS tools. These tools permit dynamic visualization of a 3D terrain model for seamless access, query and analysis across multiple types of military geographical data. Mapping and analysis is done using various GIS technologies incorporating satellites/aerial imagery and photography of the target area. The future technologies would further enhance the visualization techniques and enable the commanders to take timely decisions to defeat the adversaries. However, emphasis needs to be focused on refinement of some critical technologies such MSDF, artificial intelligence and interoperability issues etc.