Geospatial intell evolution will continue at rapid pace

Geoint frequently will be paired with other types of data, including social media

Geospatial intelligence will continue to transform as challenges and threats evolve and the requirements for data change. These changes come as successes during 2011 have highlighted the importance of data gathered by satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In a GEOINT 2011 Symposium keynote on Oct. 19, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers highlighted successes that range from helping during the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to the ongoing efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The efforts to dismantle Al Qaeda have resulted in the loss of 10 of its top 20 leaders, which the group has had difficulty replacing. He noted that geospatial intelligence played a major role in “the most precise campaign in military history.”

Geospatial intelligence has also played an important role in the nation’s two wars, including an increased ability to detect improvised explosive devices. Commanders in the region who have clamored for more data have gotten good response from military and commercial providers.

“We’ll soon have double the ISR capability in Afghanistan than we had at the peak of the surge in Iraq,” Vickers said. “The ISR task force has delivered nine wide aperture acquisition systems that gather more than 53 terabytes of data every day. We’ve also increased the satcom and terrestrial bandwidth by 1,000 percent.”

Vickers noted that the geospatial intelligence community is in the process of making several changes. The drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan is prompting a shift from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism.

That’s prompting a need to rationalize data gathering systems such as wide are surveillance equipment and light detection and ranging systems. There’s also a shift from manned to unmanned aircraft, he added. There will also be a change in the way resources are deployed.

“We’re shifting from footprint operations in a couple countries to a smaller footprint in more countries. We’ll adapt by adjust our airborne ISR and our processing, exploitation and dissemination capabilities,” Vickers said.

While geospatial intelligence often is viewed as a primary information asset, it is often used in conjunction with other types of data. “One of [geospatial intelligence's]  contributions to integrated intelligence is that it frequently helps us corroborate other types of intelligence,” Vickers said.

That multi-input approach will expand further as analysts and others learn how to understand social media. The impact of social media sites became obvious during the Arab spring movement, among other recent trends. Vickers said it will get more attention going forward.

“Social media will play a role as we adapt to the changing environment,” he said. “Human terrain mapping will become more granular.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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