Geospatial apps offer tactical advantage

Technological advancement has long been at the forefront of military prowess. The development of new weapons — such as combat vehicles, communications technologies and munitions — gives the innovating force an advantage over their opponent. Knowledge is also a crucial element of warfare. Having up-to-date information provides a tactical advantage and improves the decision-making process.

The push by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) for geospatial applications in the defense and intelligence industry aims to combine the benefits of both of these concepts to enable the warfighter to make better decisions and to gain real, tactical advantages over their opposition. The ability to provide an accurate analysis of real-time conditions downrange means that more-informed decisions are made quicker, resulting in increased efficiency during combat and intelligence gathering missions.

A strategic objective of the NGA over the next four years is an open IT environment. Ac­cording to NGA Strategy 2013 – 2017, the goal is to “Leverage and rapidly deploy interoperable collection, processing, and exploitation capabilities…. NGA will develop and deploy intuitive online services that are available for adoption and integration by the GEOINT community. These applications will provide immediate access to GEOINT processing and exploitation capabilities, enabling rapid and precise responses to key intelligence issues.” According to the NGA document, “This enables a self-assisted, full-service delivery model that allows users to create and consume GEOINT content anytime on the device of their choice.”

One of the main obstacles to implementing this vision is how to ensure that all of the components of a web-deployed geospatial infrastructure are interoperable with each other. For this reason, the Geospatial Intelligence Standards Working Group (GWG), an NGA-led organization, was created to set interoperability standards in support of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG). As both defense and commercial entities develop functionality to be deployed within this framework, these standards will define the inner workings of the technology. NGA already has invited commercial companies to develop geospatial apps for deployment in the GEOINT AppStore Station (GAS Station). The GAS Station serves as a central location for geospatial software companies to post geospatial apps for the defense and intelligence community for their consumption and feedback. This is an important first step toward quick and easy access to best-in-class image analysis capabilities for all soldiers. Before this becomes a reality, there is an important evolution that must happen – the simplification of complex image-analysis techniques.

As geospatial analysis is moved downrange, advanced functions will need to be run by non-technical users. The geospatial application leveraged by the downrange warfighter is often aimed at answering a specific question, such as “Who can see me at my current location?” “How many are there of object X?” or “What has changed since the last time I observed Y?” These apps are meant to answer questions that are relevant to the downrange user, and they often analyze changes in conditions on the ground. The interfaces should be simple to use and leverage algorithms that have been vetted through a configuration management process.

The push for geospatial applications in defense and intelligence combines the power of technology and knowledge to enable the warfighter to make better decisions. NGA’s vision for the next four years clearly highlights web-deployed analytics as a major objective moving forward, and the NGA has taken great steps to establish the framework for initial development. The activities of the GWG are aligned with NGA’s vision, and they establish the standards and protocols by which the vision will be implemented. Ultimately, it will be up to the developer communities to design intuitive interfaces that house vetted algorithms if the NGA’s vision is to succeed. As defense communities look toward the future, it is evident that geospatial apps will play a huge role in gaining the tactical advantage over the opposition.

Additional Online Resources

National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s Strategy 2013 – 2017 https://www1.nga.mil/About/NGAStrategy/Documents/19639_NGA%20Strat%20Pub_Public_Web.pdf

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