Think global, act local

Think global, act local

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From the western coast of California to the east coast of Japan, the world presents a diverse canvas in terms of varied geographies, geopolitical situations and levels of technical know-how for defence forces.

John Day
John Day
Director Defense Business Development, Esri

From the western coast of California to the east coast of Japan, the world presents a diverse canvas in terms of varied geographies, geopolitical situations and levels of technical know-how for defence forces. Can you describe the geospatial solutions being provided by Esri to suit the needs of its customers?
Asia Pacifi c is very broad region of the world, and although we can say there is much diversity in geopolitics and technical know-how in each country, we fi nd one primary goal for all defence forces; and that is the desire to acquire, manage and exploit spatial information suitable for awareness and agile decision support. It is a key for every defence force to know more than their adversary and use technology to their advantage.

We fi nd that geospatial requirements vary within any given defence organisation and our technology has matured to support users at all echelons across their enterprise. Th e Esri solution is a geospatial platform that can be confi gured and deployed from headquarters situation rooms down to the tactical units. Th is provides continuity and effi ciencies to the end user because our capabilities can be reconfi gured for a specifi c mission. By providing a common platform across the national security community, we enable unparalleled unity of action.

We are also great believers in the ‘geographic approach’- using geographic science supported by GIS as a framework to solve problems. Once you have embraced the geographic approach to problem solving, you’ll fi nd that you can apply it to many types of problems in your fi eld of expertise or outside. One very good example is how a geographer with a civilian background was quickly able to take an analytical model for locating camp sites suitable for recreational vehicles (RV) and repurpose this for locating suitable launch sites for mobile missile launchers. Site selection for an RV campsite involves fi nding fl at areas with fi rm ground and little to no slope that are close to main roads. Using the geographic approach to solving problems, the same analyst who created the model for the RV is able to reuse the model for the Shahab-3 mobile missile launcher. It too has similar requirements when determining site selection for hide, launch and refuelling – fi rm, fl at ground close to main roads. When you design systems and develop staff based on understanding the fundamentals of approaching problems in the context of geography, they understand how to utilise their skills for multiple problems in this way. Th at’s the power of the geographic approach to problem solving.

You led Esri’s activities with the Commercial Joint Mapping Toolkit (CJMTK). CJMTK replaced the government-owned software package, Joint Mapping Toolkit (JMTK) and is now the United States Department of Defense’s (DoD) standard mapping toolkit for C2I software. Can you tell us about it?
Th e CJMTK programme was a recognition that rapid technology growth in Commercial Off -Th e-Shelf (COTS) GIS software could provide a vast majority of geospatial capabilities for C2I systems, and respond to new requirements more quickly than government-developed technology.

Th is acquisition provided many benefi ts to defence programmes by allowing them to develop using a standard set of APIs and capabilities. While successful CJMTK technology is not a panacea – good systems architecture design and information management strategies are essential if true interoperability and information exchange are to be enabled. If developers aren’t careful then CJMTK can provide a bewildering array of options and increasingly there is recognition of the need for governance within and between programmes of record if they are to achieve the full geospatial benefi ts of CJMTK. Indeed, I believe this is one of the major drivers in the creation of the US Army’s Geospatial Center and the appointment of an Army GIO who is charged with ensuring standardisation, interoperability and best practices across US Army systems.


You have around three decades of experience in geospatial technology. How has the technology evolved in all these years vis-à-vis its utility for defen ce forces and how do you think it can alter the balance in one’s favour in the battlefi eld?
Th ree decades is a long time in the ICT industry. If you follow Moore’s law for 30 years, the growth is not linear but exponential, and capability is doubling every 18 months. Th e technology was originally hosted on a mainframe computer providing the defence mapping agencies the ability to automate production of hardcopy maps. Interconnection was only of mainframe computers and the interface was command lines on a terminal. Th rough DARPA, the defence industry led the revolution and today we see the defence market benefi tting from these advancements and repurposing commercial technology for their use. Th is is providing tremendous cost savings in areas of research and development when defence forces can grab something off -the-shelf, prototype and deploy solutions in a matter of days, weeks and months.

Today, digital spatial information is everywhere. I can’t drive or walk down a street without seeing someone searching or viewing information for a location on a laptop or smartphone. Car navigation systems are a commodity and very simple to use. For Esri, mobile systems are where we see tremendous growth as portable smart devices allow soldiers as well as citizens to become sensors to feed back to the headquarters. At the same time, the tempo of data being fed to the tactical units is more accurate and can be near realtime. For an infantry solider or mechanised unit to be terrain aware fi rst, to reason fi rst, and to maneuver fi rst, it is a force multiplier and an advantage that is essential.

The major challenge facing the security forces in the world today is terrorism or asymmetric warfare. As an army offi cer, you have been involved with a number of counter-terrorism activities. How can geospatial technology help defence and internal security forces gain an edge in this kind of warfare?
In over three decades of involvement with terrorism and asymmetric warfare, I have watched the advancement of geospatial activities with great interest. From my early days in Northern Ireland through to the present day, I see many similar problems being addressed using digital IT rather than analog pen and paper processes.

Paper maps showing population distribution based on religion were called ‘tribal maps’ in Northern Ireland – green for catholic, orange for protestant, yellow for mixed, with white roads indicating those providing relatively safe transit. Today we are exploiting all the power of human geography in GIS for what we now call Human Terrain, and we are integrating human geography with all sources of intelligence. Th e maps back then were static and of limited value. In today’s digital world, the data is dynamic and the maps can be provided and updated in near real-time. Not only is this critical in the planning of operations but by using mobile devices, intelligence and situational awareness is now available to deployed forces. Patrols can also contribute more quickly and completely to the intelligence picture long before their debrief back at base.

Off ensive operations against terrorist cells require intensive data capture and correlation. Intelligence offi cers retained most of this in their heads or on display boards. Mostly this intelligence was lost when they rotated out of theater at the end of their tour. Link analysis or social network analysis, using software such as i2’s Analyst Notebook, has transformed this collection and analysis. Coupled with closer integration with other intelligence sources and geographic methods, we are seeing greater utility from all these tools.

Force Protection remains a major challenge. To locate IEDs in Northern Ireland, we conducted change detection using manual processes from analog fi lm images captured from aircraft. Wet fi lm processing and analysis were slow and time consuming. Today, we see the integration of digital imagery and image processing software providing improved capabilities in real-time. And when combined in a common geographic framework with other intelligence sources, such as SIGINT on cell phones and video from UAS, actionable intelligence can be derived more completely and quickly.

We are witnessing tremendous integration and convergence in geospatial technology space. How is this improving the wherewithal of a soldier in the battlefi eld and changing the war scenario? What do you envisage for the future?
Predicting the future beyond a year or two is a fool’s errand avoided by most IT professionals. But it is safe to say that geospatial technology is going beyond a single analytical workstation to providing an ecosystem to support measurement, storage, analysis, visualisation, planning, decision making, taking action, and then supporting more measurement and so on, in a cyclical manner. Th is is changing how we do business itself, not just how we use GIS. Th ese are very exciting times as ease of integration and convergence is occurring throughout the geospatial industry. We see very interesting marriages between diff erent intelligence and operational practices in defence. Th is is all happening through better understanding of government and industry standards, and fostering the collaboration of often diff erent cultures within a defence force. New practices and tradecraft are appearing as quickly as the technology is changing.

Maps used to represent a static interpretation of information – whether it was a topographic base map or acetate overlay. While that is still a valid role for sharing information, today we see that the geographic display is used in much more powerful and interesting ways. Geospatial displays are used by planners to collaborate, to consider courses-of-action, and then to present options to commanders. Decisions are made in the ‘map’ environment and then plans are distributed as electronic maps not just within the HQ but down to the deployed and mobile forces. It will be interesting to see when the digital display is trusted in lieu of the paper map. Some say ‘never’ but the US Navy no longer has chart lockers in its submarines, and fully digital bridges on surface ships is only a matter of training and certifi cation away.

With mainstreaming of geospatial technology, we see a higher degree of collaboration/integration between defence and commercial/consumer/ individual use of geointelligence information and tech. Do you see this as a positive trend? What about the repercussions of misuse?
Absolutely a positive trend. Commercial consumers and individuals bring fresh ideas to the geospatial melting pot and to the defence industry. It’s just an explosion of “What’s New” in the GIS world, and we are in the middle of huge internet research, test and evaluation playground. What I fi nd interesting about geospatial technology in the public internet cloud are those solutions that go through stages of being fun and popular, to those that are able to sustain themselves, and eventually solutions that can continually evolve to and expand in many markets.

Billions of smartphones are on the horizon – the iPhone, the Android phone and Windows phone. We are putting ArcGIS in that environment. People are very interested but most of them are not GIS professionals. Th ey’re accessing the map services using ArcGIS online and just having a lot of fun. Our initiatives here are to empower access to services, but also to bring community information back into the system. And that’s from citizens or from mobile workers, so that the enterprise is connected with everyone else. Increasingly we will want and need to take into consideration information from sources such as NGOs and interested citizens. Volunteered geographic information will often be the fi rst source of intelligence available, as was the case in Haiti and Egypt for example. All-source integration and analysis must now include the ability to use Twitter, Ushahidi, Flickr and YouTube.

Th ere is always a danger of misuse of any technology and information. In the military, we are familiar with risk management and are used to having to consider the source and accuracy of information – intelligence staff have always done this. It is true that this will become more challenging as more and more sources become available, but good governance and transparency takes care of a lot of these bad practices of misuse. Technology alone is not the answer. Good governance – what we usually call leadership and management – is the most vital ingredient.

Today, the need for real-time geointelligence information is on the rise. Is technology playing catch up? Any specifi c solutions from Esri?
In defence, we operate in a time-dominant environment. GIS has been very active in near real-time data for over a decade and one of the leaders of putting temporal data in the context of spatial location, along with analysis to understand temporal patterns that occur over seasons, years, months, weeks, days, hours or minutes. All our products are time aware. Our database technology now includes time as an attribute to support analysis and visualisation. For some years, our server technology has been able to accept and log track feeds from various sources to provide near real-time insertion.

Th is has been important for many intelligence and military systems whether the feeds are from intelligence sources for analysis, or for situational awareness as part of a common operating picture. Imagery is now completely integrated into our server technology to provide strong management, dissemination, visualisation and analysis. Th ese capabilities are provided using on-the-fl y image processes so that new imagery is available as soon as it can be delivered to the server. Th is too is a major advance in collapsing the time from sensor to shooter. All this means that our client technology – from professional desktops to browsers have the ability to exploit time.

What is the business strategy of Esri to cater to varying needs of defence forces in Asian region in general and South Asian region in particular?
Our strategy is same for domestic as well as international market, and that is to bring proven COTS technology that immediately elevates the capabilities to ISR, defence mapping and C2 systems, all without waiting for technology to be incubated, matured and developed with large internal development teams. Our goal to our customers in South Asia is to off er effi cient, cost reducing technology over the lifecycle of a deployed system.

Th e burden of research and development, sustaining technology and supporting this over extended periods is now shared through broader user community in the public and commercial sectors, and to the benefi t of defence forces. As a global company, we continue to support our customers in this region with core technology and expertise from the US coupled closely with our network of distributors and partners located in the region. I consider this thinking globally but operating locally.