Geospatial Information for the Enterprise


Geospatial Information for the Enterprise

Air Combat Command is distributing geospatial data and imagery from its installation
geographic information and services database using a common Web interface.

By Mark D. McKercher

Prior to constructing permanent and temporary facilities, installing utilities or securing the perimeter of Air Force installations anywhere in the world, Air Force personnel collect and analyze geospatial information to support decisions regarding location, utilities and environmental impacts.

Using up-to-date installation geographic information and services (formerly GeoBase) data, the repository for all Air Force geospatial installation information, users are able to view, print, analyze, and when required, download vast amounts of geospatial data and imagery to support planners and combatant commanders in making sound decisions regarding installation assets.

Previously, to access and download geospatial data and imagery for CONUS and OCONUS Air Force installations, users were required to login to each installation network domain, obtain the proper network authorization and be willing to wait for data and imagery to download using conventional bandwidth and processor limitations inherent within DoD architectures.

These procedures were found to be unacceptable during military planning operations, as time is the critical factor in making informed decisions regarding facility and asset locations, as well as planning for accompanying support services. Immediate authenticated access to geospatial information was needed to deliver combat support, situational awareness and expeditionary operations up-to-date and accurate installation level information to decision-makers anytime, anywhere.

This requirement for immediate access to high quality geospatial data and imagery led the Headquarters Air Combat Command (HQ ACC) integrated mission support staff to reevaluate geospatial data distribution procedures given the challenges inherent within the DoD network infrastructure. The ACC integrated mission support staff, consisting of Air Force personnel and technical specialists from Earth Tech, reviewed business processes. They determined that by leveraging the Air Force enterprise services currently provided by the Global Combat Support System-Air Force (GCSS-AF) service-oriented architecture (SOA), Air Force geospatial data and imagery can be seamlessly integrated into emergency management applications, Defense Threat Reduction Agency applications, CBRNE applications and airfield management and planning tools.

This geospatial data and imagery is distributed worldwide using a common Web interface through a single access point. By using the GCSS-AF SOA, large geospatial data sets and imagery could be downloaded without impacting the overall mission of the GCSS-AF to deliver timely, accurate and trusted combat support information to its one million users.

After obtaining approval from the GCSS-AF outreach staff, Earth Tech system architects began designing Websites and building Web services to allow access to current and archived unclassified and classified installation data and imagery by all authorized GCSS-AF users. These portal services have transformed the manner in which installation information is displayed, analyzed, downloaded, and ultimately used, by providing a common interface to all geospatial information, streamlining authorization procedures and decreasing download times exponentially.

Operational Planning

Geospatial information maintained by the Air Force GeoBase program personnel supports the overall ACC mission to develop airmen who are trained, organized, equipped, prepared to deploy and ready to fight, by providing a single, accurate and secure authoritative source to promote effective installation decision-making. Operational planners require current data and imagery on forward operating locations to properly prepare deploying forces before any "boots hit the ground."

Access to up-to-date and accurate installation information allows personnel to plan aircraft parking plans and temporary tent cities, develop security initiatives, and maintain up-to-date and accurate situational awareness. By having this information readily available, airmen are better prepared, equipped and organized at home station and abroad.

The GCSS-AF provides the network infrastructure by which all combat support information is provided to joint and Air Force commanders, their staffs, and support personnel at all ranks and echelons, with the appropriate level of security. The GCSS-AF provides the combat information needed for expeditionary forces to execute missions throughout the spectrum of military operations. Its overall mission is to improve combat operational capabilities by consolidating support systems so they are more responsive to warfighter needs, easier to use, and provide a common combat support capability.

The system provides round-the-clock access to users who are at home or deployed using a single login and a common look and feel for integrated Air Force information to allow collaboration on the latest information pertinent to their particular mission. Access to accurate and up-to-date geospatial information complements the overall mission of the GCSS-AF to provide access to combat support information as it provides the situational awareness planners and commanders need to manage installation assets that are used to support combat operations, implement force protection and evaluate airfield suitability.

Utilizing the SOA inherent within the GCSS-AF to quickly migrate installation-level geospatial data and imagery to the entire Air Force enterprise level has facilitated the development of new internal business processes and forced user-level standards for network, enterprise services and critical applications, and as a result, created a standard for the delivery of all mission-critical geospatial information.

Since implementation on the GCSS-AF portal, a variety of AF users have accessed installation-level mission data in support of a number of efforts to include research for Base Realignment and Closure activities, wireless tower siting, air show planning, as well as providing a consistent authoritative source for installation facilities. User surveys have revealed that eliminating the laborious procedures and network authentications previously required for secure access to geospatial information was a major factor in increasing overall use. Personnel are able to quickly and efficiently prepare aircraft parking layouts, temporary and permanent facility locations with supporting utilities, and develop alternative security measures to be better prepared, equipped and organized at their home installation or abroad.

By utilizing the GCSS-AF enterprise architecture, up-to-date geospatial data, imagery and maps are now available to authorized DoD personnel anytime, anywhere via a secure, Web-centric portal. Access to GeoBase mission data gives everyone from airmen to general officers the opportunity to obtain up-to-date situational awareness at home installations and on forward operating locations long before personnel are deployed or assigned a permanent change of station.

Recent GCSS Web service statistics prove the value of GCSS-AF portal access to geospatial information, with the number of unique users nearly 5,000 per month at a request rate of more than 400,000 per week. That equates to more than 1.5 terabytes of information, making the GeoBase data and imagery the most downloaded geospatial information on the portal.

For Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, use has been consistent and varied, in that it has provided the Air Force Headquarters Weather Agency ideal locations to erect weather collection equipment, established perimeters for Iraqi archaeological sites and identified candidate munitions storage areas. It also has been used by deploying forces to check for updates to the tent facilities they will be occupying in-country.

Dynamic Mapping

The primary benefit to this enterprise approach to geospatial information delivery is the ability to provide an easily accessible and authoritative data source that was previously unknown or unavailable. Embedding a dynamic mapping function into the day-to-day and non-traditional Air Force disciplines has produced an added benefit in that applications beyond the original scope of the program have been proposed to further utilize the vast amounts of geospatial currently maintained by AF major commands.

Institutionalization of geospatial information is well underway within the Air Force with the help of the GCSS-AF network services and dedicated technical staff at HQ ACC. The diverse user community will continue to benefit from this effort, as facility and asset location information within the Air Force is dynamic to support expeditionary forces and the long-term sustainment of the warfighter.

During this year we will further implement browser-based editing tools to allow for direct feature editing using the GCSS-AF portal. The goal is for authorized users to perform geospatial data editing on-line, since the maintenance and currency of installation information is vital to executing successful expeditionary operations. With the proper layer-level authentication, users will able to edit their own data and become long-term data stewards in support of their particular function.

At this time, Central Command, South Command and North Command areas of responsibility airfield libraries, as well as Air Mobility Command and U.S. Air Force Europe linked installation data, are available through the unclassified GCSS-AF portal (NIPRNet).

Although classified or secret level network (SIPRNet) capabilities are limited to date, all SIPRNet capabilities-for example, data delivery and on-line editing-will be enabled across the Global Information Grid using the GCSS-AF SIPRNet portal by the end of the year. This will support forward operating locations of particular importance as necessary to support expeditionary operations, as well as to allow C2 and planning operations to integrate ACC IGI&S data and services directly into their business processes.