Imagine the confusion in a tactical operations center where Army systems attempt to provide a common operating picture (COP) using maps with different sources, currency, accuracy and scales. Consider also the frustration of soldiers attempting to display a "common" overlay on each of those systems when each system displays the symbols differently or perhaps is not able to display the overlay at all. Then imagine the wasted effort of soldiers collecting the same feature on the ground many times and recording the information in different ways.
Unfortunately, this isn't imagination, but the reality that exists in our Army systems today. Fortunately, however, the Army Geospatial Enterprise (AGE) is addressing these issues as we advance geospatial interoperability among Army programs.
The AGE is an integrated system of technologies, standards, data, organizations and processes that delivers a Standard and Shareable Geospatial Foundation (SSGF) at all echelons. This ensures that all Army programs can discover, exploit and visualize content-managed maps, imagery, terrain feature data and elevation data to truly enable a COP.
The AGE addresses stovepipe systems or "cylinders of excellence" that proliferate incompatible geospatial data formats, standards, schema/models, viewers and data management processes, and are ineffective during unit relief in place/transfer of authority. The AGE will ensure that the Army has the required geospatial products and training for exercises, pre-deployment and system development. Ultimately, the AGE connects Army systems and users to the National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG) and Allied System for Geospatial-Intelligence (ASG).
Three major components have been critical to the success of implementing the AGE: governance process, framework and geospatial domain expertise.
The Geospatial-Enterprise Governance Board (GGB) provides the governance and oversight necessary to oversee the development of the net-enabled AGE. It is co-chaired by the chief of engineers and the Army G-2 (deputy chief of staff of the Army for intelligence), with members from the deputy chiefs of staff, G-1, G-3/5/7, G-4, chief information officer/G6 and G-8, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT), Army Training and Doctrine Command, Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, Army Intelligence and Security Command, Army Special Operations Command, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Marine Corps. It meets semi-annually and has been a significant forcing function moving Army geospatial issues forward and educating Army senior leaders on the complexity of the AGE implementation.
The AGE framework is being implemented as the geospatial component of the Army Common Operating Environment (COE), an approved set of computing technologies and standards that enables secure and interoperable applications to be rapidly developed and executed across a variety of computing environments (CE): mobile/handheld, mounted, command post, data center/cloud/generating force, sensor and real-time/safety critical/embedded. Through the COE, we have been able to provide consistent geospatial requirements across the acquisition community and through the COE cross-cutting capabilities (CCCs), ensuring that the SSGF and common overlay will be implemented across all CEs.
The Army Geospatial Center (AGC) provides the geospatial domain expertise to ASA (ALT) and is responsible for the geospatial component of the COE, leading all geospatially-related CCCs. AGC provides geospatial systems engineering, data modeling and standards development, architecture support, experimentation and certification support, technology assessments and trade studies, and advise CE leads/project managers on industry trends.
There have been major strides in moving the AGE forward over the last 12 months, including the successful completion of critical milestones related to the GGB. One of the key efforts was an initial assessment of Army programs against the geospatial standards recommended for Army system geospatial interoperability.
The GGB leadership wanted the answers to some critical questions, such as: What is the current state? How bad is it? How did we get here? If the geospatial component of the COE dictated a certain set of open standards to enable a SSGF across all systems, where do the Army programs stand right now?
Our initial assessment focused on the CIO/G6 core interoperability list of 12 systems, plus Nett Warrior and TiGR. This represented a cross-section of systems from different program executive offices and CEs. The assessment focused on SSGF data formats and Web services, the use of the Ground-Warfighter Data Model, data loading/data updates/data management and use of authoritative data sets.
As expected, the findings weren't encouraging. The initial assessment indicated that there was no Army SSGF content manager, systems were unable to share SSGF content and field support representatives were required to load the SSGF content.
As we worked to understand "how we got here," there were five different categories of issues:
Doctrine/Guidance: Until 2014, there was no specific regulatory guidance addressing the AGE. AR 115-11, Geospatial Information and Services, updated in October 2014, codified the roles and responsibilities for Army geospatial governance and development of the AGE. Also, we started addressing the issue of a content-managed SSGF and determined the need for an overarching Army GEOINT concept of operations.
Requirements: Until 2012, the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) did not have a requirement to provide the geospatial foundation to Mission Command. As we are building out the geospatial enterprise, we see DCGS-A as the hub, providing a content-managed SSGF. Mission Command, conversely, did not have documented requirements to pull the geospatial foundation from DCGS-A. These requirements are being addressed through the DCGS-A Increment 2 Information System (IS) Capability Development Document (CDD) and the COE IS CDD.
Standards: We are addressing three specific standards issues. First, we saw a gap in the open standards that address Army requirements, specifically in the area of moving information to the disconnected, intermittent and low-bandwidth environment. This gap is addressed by the Open Geospatial Consortium's GeoPackage, jointly developed by AGC and the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), which was approved in 2014.
Second, while Army programs were beginning to see the value in open geospatial standards, their adoption and implementation was inconsistent across the Army. As mentioned previously, this is being addressed through the geospatial component of the COE.
Finally, implementation guidance and associated profiles were lacking for each standard. Even if programs implemented the correct standard, that didn't guarantee geospatial interoperability. Using AGC's AGE node, we showed senior leaders five different Army programs that implemented the Keyhold Markup Language (KML) standard (Version 2.2) but were unable to display the same geospatial overlay consistently. This became the poster child for geospatial "un-interoperability" and drove home the message that standards alone are not sufficient.
We need profiles and implementation guidance for each standard, and we need to ensure that programs have implemented the standards correctly through early and repeated assessments. We are working to address this with the development of working profiles for KML and Geopackage and by evaluating NSG profiles for Open Geospatial Consortium web services.
Testing: As Army programs have gone through Army Interoperability Certification (AIC) testing, there have been no robust geospatial threads to address geospatial interoperability. There also hasn't been any specific requirement for AGE certification. To address these issues, we updated the AIC threads related to foundation GEOINT, are working with ASA (ALT) for more effective use of "phased testing" for geospatial interoperability certification and ensured that AR 115-11 documents the requirement for AGE certification.
Training: We have also seen deficiencies in geospatial training/expertise within the program of records (POR). As the PORs were implementing geospatial technology, they didn't always understand nuances and complexities of geospatial systems. There is a significant difference in the expertise of a geospatial engineer and a systems engineer. We have seen Army programs that hire companies without geospatial domain expertise and end up implementing the technology incorrectly. AGC's support to ASA(ALT) and the COE with this domain expertise has been critical to overcoming this challenge.
Many issues can be attributed to the lack of a requirement for a system-of-systems approach to ensure geospatial foundation interoperability.
The geospatial interoperability assessment briefings to the GGB in May 2015 brought three important issues to the forefront. The first was SSGF content management for the Army. As we work to frame the roles, responsibilities and interdependencies, we need to develop an overarching Army GEOINT CONOP.
The second is the way ahead for geospatial interoperability and system certification. As discussed earlier, we are working to ensure that test threads represent the correct geospatial standards defined in the COE. We are working with ASA(ALT) to have AGE certification as a criteria for completion of COE-phased testing. Finally, we are ensuring there is GEOINT functional manager standards alignment with NGA.
The third issue was the importance and future of the AGE node. The node was initially established with center-directed research funds from ERDC Director Jeffery P. Holland, and ran jointly with the ERDC. It is an instantiation of the COE that incorporates a combination of real hardware and virtual machines to replicate computing environments.
The AGE node provides an environment to:
• Evaluate/validate proposed geospatial architectures, current and emerging standards /standards implementations, and proposed tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as conduct technology assessments in support of the AGE and COE.
• Experiment, integrate and engineer research and development efforts to ensure interoperability within the COE, thus providing risk-mitigation for technology transfer.
• Collaborate with industry and academia to enhance GIS technology.
• Support geospatial system interoperability assessment and certification.
For the longest time, many have believed that implementing geospatial technology and systems was easy. How hard could it be? It's just a map! As we have worked show the deficiencies of the current capabilities, the complexity of geospatial systems, and the value of the AGE, we've gained tremendous momentum with Army senior leaders and Army programs.
Critical elements that enable the AGE are moving forward, including the COE, AGE system certification, GEOINT CONOP, standard profiles and implementation guidance and the AGE node. Senior leaders understand that geospatial capabilities cut across all war-fighting functions and are critical to mission success.
Dan Visone is chief of the AGC's Geospatial Acquisition and Support Directorate.