TIGR keeps troops in the field safer

Soldiers embrace information-sharing system they can call their own

Troops on the ground in the sparse terrain of Afghanistan are getting a head start because of a reporting tool largely developed on the battlefields of Iraq that has earned widespread acclaim for keeping soldiers up-to-date about rapidly changing conditions.

Originally introduced on the battlefield three years ago and later deployed across Iraq, the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) System began as an experimental project initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency with little funding, and DARPA gave it to soldiers to see how they might make use of it.

TIGR is a Web-based information-sharing system that is available on secure laptops and allows soldiers to continuously update and add information about the areas where they are deployed. The system makes it simple to add notes, identify trouble spots, and update information on current maps and satellite imagery using the kind of map-based tools and social messaging media common to the Web.

But its primary advantage has been in enabling troops who head out on new assignments to benefit from the findings of previous patrols. The rapid adoption of TIGR in the battlefield resulted in the system being developed more quickly and effectively than traditional military technology.

The system achieved Army-wide acceptance in just two years and is now in use by more than 50,000 soldiers, developers say. And it is now on track for delivery from DARPA to the Army as an enduring capability. Scheduled for delivery to the Army at the end of a two-year development plan, it will become a program of record, according to sources familiar with the situation authorized to speak on background only.

Efforts for further implementation are ramping up as the military looks to create a nonclassified version of the Secure IP Router Network-based system and fold in new capabilities.

Dynamic Development

The more TIGR is used, the more it has to offer. The system is a repository for new information and could be updated as often as every time a patrol is completed. It also benefits from using geospatial mapping capabilities that can incorporate the latest maps, satellite images and data as its backdrop, which means it improves as technology does.

For example, TIGR offers 360-degree street-level patrol views and 400 miles of street coverage in Iraq. Mapping in Afghanistan is under way, said Mari Maeda, DARPA program manager who helped create TIGR.

Soldiers can search the system to identify trends, such as a pattern of attacks along a specific patrol route, Maeda said. Searches produce media-rich results — such as spreadsheets or Global Positioning System capabilities — and log lethal and nonlethal events, in addition to data about school locations or intelligence, for example. In the latest version, yellow icons denote the locations of possible improvised explosive devices. Soldiers can take virtual tours of neighborhoods and take advantage of months or years of accumulated information.

Reports are tagged by location for events and places, “such as, ‘On this patrol visited a school or mosque here and dropped supplies, or provided security presence.’ It offers an event summary,” Maeda said.

“There is just the right amount of structure — it’s adaptable to individual needs. We’re fighting to keep it simple and flexible,” Maeda said.

Showing a screen shot during a presentation at the Network Enabled Operations conference in January, Maeda demonstrated the wide applicability of the system with a list of populated items: homes of suspected bomb-makers, cleared mine fields, security check points, car dealerships, primary schools and potential hideouts for insurgents.

“It’s something completely unique — it’s a living, breathing system,” said Brian Slaughter, a retired Army lieutenant who served in Iraq in 2004 and is manager for TIGR business development at General Dynamics C4S.

“It’s focused to address the lowest-level gaps for patrol-level soldiers,” said Richard Coupland, director of science, technology and products at General Dynamics C4S and battle management systems. “They can share information in their own words among peers.”

Advanced Tools

Slaughter has seen firsthand the evolution of TIGR. Based on his time on the ground, the system has gained capabilities that allow users to save and print maps, bookmark locations, and export information to Google Earth or presentation and spreadsheet programs. He also highlighted a function that quickly finds a location based on grid information entered by a soldier and places a red X in the center.

The simplicity of the interface, which he compared to Facebook and Google Maps, lends itself to more usage and therefore the proliferation of information.

“It’s simple for a soldier to tell the story of what they’re doing on the ground, whether talking to a sheik or patrol," Slaughter said. "This has become the soldier’s tool.”

TIGR’s capabilities — and its success — have encouraged DARPA researchers to explore new ways to use the system.

“We’re always asking, ‘What else can we do with this?’” Maeda said.

There are a number of ideas in consideration, she said, including real-time reporting, discussion forums, ways to integrate information from unmanned aerial vehicle sensors, and efforts to make TIGR even more mobile than its laptop format.

Maeda said DARPA also is looking at some more high-tech capabilities, including projects to explore using TIGR and other data systems for predictive and statistical analyses.

Developers are looking to take advantage of commercial hardware as much as possible and build a community with a wealth of applications and user input, Maeda said. 

“TIGR is evolving every day thanks in part to the active exchange between users and developers working together in the battle space,” Slaughter said. “This is a soldier-developed capability, and even though there are numerous features in TIGR already, there are many new ones yet to come,” Slaughter said.

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