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GeoInt 2012: A view into the UK Joint Forces Command

Florida, US: The second day of the 2012 GeoInt Conference kicked off with a Keynote Address by Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach. Commander Peach provided an interesting glimpse of the Joint Forces Command (JFC) of the United Kingdom.

Describing the JFC as “an idea of its time”, Commander Peach termed it as a one-stop intelligence command and characterised his leadership role as one of “smashing things together” to achieve efficiencies. He discussed how geography underpins decision making in the field and that puts a premium on thinking about how to fight in the future. Peach advised attendees not to expect that future battlefields will look like Afghanistan. He said that anticipating the future – and future battlegrounds – is certainly a challenge, but one that intelligence agencies, including the JFC, must address carefully and thoroughly. “We are at a culmination point of geography,” he said, “and we have to maintain an edge in foundation data.” Accuracy is vital to our ability to best carry out our missions.

Peach cautioned that technology products must be put in the context of a person, organisation or nation which is using them to make effective decisions. Offering an example of his organisation’s role in supporting operations around Libya, Peach said that they had to create products relevant to the unique needs of users in that theatre when it was not a priority. Requested by the UN to provide support in Libya when primary organisational focus was elsewhere, the JFC was able to respond quickly. That capability, he said, was based on preparatory exercises in a variety of areas.

He cited several lessons learned in that example, in addition to other experiences, including Afghanistan. Peach referred to an “embarrassment of riches” in technology deployed in Afghanistan that suddenly was required to be focused on Libya. Responding to such situations requires an ability to “pay attention, everywhere – somehow.”

Another recent event challenged the capabilities of the JFC – the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Peach noted that over two years of preparation was required to pull together a “rainbow coalition” of intelligence and other agencies, including the Ordnance Survey of the UK. An important takeaway from the Olympic experience was a deeper understanding of the role of social media, especially in advance of the event.

In Afghanistan, Peach explained, the role of historical geography really came to the fore. An analysis of where opponents had fought from, lived and travelled 150 years ago revealed basically the same patterns today. For example, places where ambushes occurred in 1842 are still suitable in 2012, so a good grasp on human geography is vital for understanding the complete picture. As Peach put it, we need to “turn mapping into predictions.” Understanding where and how people live can reduce civilian casualties, which is a strategic issue.

Peach concluded with a review of the Royal Air Force facility at Wyton, which was the base for the RAF Pathfinders in the World War II. The facility is known as “Pathfinder,” an appropriate name given its role in providing critical intelligence to guide national and global security efforts. Peach called RAF Wyton the “wow moment” in the UK in terms of multi-Int capabilities.

Calling for more GeoInt thinking beyond intelligence, Peach stressed the need for aligning policy and capability development in a coordinated way that reduces duplication. “We need to root out” those who rely on outdated policies, he said. In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world, flexibility is paramount, and the need for sharing data to protect national assets has never been greater.

Responding to an audience question whether he thought that NGA was moving too fast for US allies, he disagreed, saying that at times it wasn’t fast enough. He mentioned that, while there is lot of new technology on the GeoInt exhibit floor, much has been around for a long time. The urgency is to operationalise the technology, and there is a need to bring scientists together with practitioners.

To another question on his challenges as Commander of the JFC, Peach said that he’s “surrounded by people who like to make simple things complicated,” when it should be the other way around. He urged attendees to simplify their language, deploring the “tendency to abbreviate everything to the point of befuddlement of customers.”

As NGA Director Long said in the previous day’s Keynote session, culture is also a challenge. Learning how to best describe things they can’t see to senior deciders is a prime example. Regarding the UK’s longstanding austerity measures that affect his budget, Peach said that, in effect, he has become used to reductions in defense spending since 1989 and has taken a “good enough” approach to new project implementation. Experimentation must allow for failure, he said, and navigating through austerity is a reality. “You can’t change the numbers.”

Source: Our Correspondent