/ / / / GIF 2014 Volume 12 Issue 5 (July/August)

On the Ground with GIS

  • Written by  Harrison Donnelly
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The experiences of more than a decade of ground operations have shaped and changed the geographic information system software used most often by the Department of Defense, as well as the ways in which military forces use GIS for intelligence and command and control.

Esri, developer of the industry-leading ArcGIS solution, offers ArcGIS for the Military—Land Operations, which is optimized to provide an interoperable platform to manage, visualize, analyze and share geospatial information for land-based missions. It is one of a series of packages of templates and standardized workflows, offered without charge to ArcGIS customers, that are designed to meet the unique needs of each industry.

The Land Operations module has been a key tool in the hands of military intelligence analysts in Southwest Asia, and has been useful for fostering information sharing into command and control systems, according to Ben Conklin, Esri lead for defense solutions.

The modules are revised and updated on an ongoing basis to reflect changes in military doctrine and to capture the best practices and current techniques that were being used in Afghanistan and Iraq and turn them into useful templates that meet the needs of warfighters on the ground.

Common Ground

Such changes are evident in the revised set of customized templates recently provided by Esri for the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A), that service’s linchpin system for managing ISR data. With easy-to-use templates comprising maps, analytic capabilities and other visualization tools, as well as a simple information model for creating geospatial products, the templates help users rapidly make products to support requests from commanders.

The templates were customized to match the DCGS-A workflows. Esri staff worked with analysts and specialists at the Army Intelligence Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to refine the template requirements. The revised templates include incident analysis capabilities for mapping IED and other events; cross-country mobility analysis to identify key terrain and sketch approach routes; and intervisibility analysis to identify areas of cover and concealment.

“We had some success in getting a community of DCGS-A users to give us direct input into the kind of things they would like to see in terms of templates and workflows,” Conklin explained. “We worked closely with them to get exactly what they needed and get some direct feedback from key people, and then get it released out to the field and put into use quickly. That was unusual, because most of the work we have done is on long cycles, with not that much interaction and feedback from users. The project last year was all about working with people to get what they needed and help them with ease of use of the tools. We didn’t have enough of that in the early years.

“With the military, we do get feedback, but the hardest part is to make the change and then get it out to the people who needed it. The most important part was not only getting the feedback, but also being able to rapidly deploy the template to users. That’s where we really have a great relationship with the Army, which not only helped us get the requirements for what was needed, but also helped us share the work when it was done on the networks and the systems they had access to,” he added.

ArcGIS for the Military—Land Operations evolved out of Esri’s long relationship with the Army, Conklin explained.

“As we worked with those programs, we realized we needed to do a lot more to help users apply this generic toolset to the specific missions of the military. There are a lot of specific requirements they have, such as the military symbologies. They need to use military standard symbology to make products, and we wanted to make that easy to do inside a GIS system,” he said.

“It’s very complex, but it’s something they need to do within a GIS to use it effectively,” Conklin continued. “It’s more than supporting the standard, but also making sure that it is easy to use and flexible. That was one area we worked on over the years, but we realized that we needed to get more tools and workflows to help the military build their standard mapping products. That’s what drove us to do this.”

Originally called ArcGIS for the Warfighter, the product was subsequently focused on land operations, specifically on the different needs of the military intelligence and C2 communities.

“When we sat down with the Army, what they envisioned was bringing those communities together and making it possible to share information between intelligence and C2. So we decided to approach this as one big solution,” Conklin said. “On the intel side, a lot of analysts use our ArcGIS software out of the box as part of systems like the DCGS-A. On the C2 side, they are primarily building embedded solutions, as developers put our software into specialized systems. That’s what makes the communities so different—on the intelligence side, we are dealing with direct end-users. But on the C2 side, we are dealing with system integrators and developers. Still, they do have many of the same needs in terms of mapping and analytic capability.”

Doctrinal Changes

Another challenge arose from changes in military doctrine as it has evolved away from conventional operations. “We started doing this project trying to use established doctrine as much as possible in the definition of templates. That was challenging for some things in a stability operations context, where you don’t create as many standard planning products as you might in other types of conflicts. So we found ourselves needing to make a lot more nonstandard products about things that we weren’t able to find in field manuals and didn’t have as much defined doctrine,” Conklin said.

“There wasn’t a lot of established doctrine for some types of products, such as analyzing IED data to determine patterns and identify threats,” he added. “That was an emerging area where people needed GIS, but didn’t have established practices that we could pick up. That changed a lot. In the beginning, we focused on conventional stuff from manuals and doctrine. But over the course of our development, we did a lot more to directly support the operations that people were conducting.

“What they’re doing is taking the lessons learned from these conflicts and incorporating them into traditional doctrine. We’ve learned from experience and put in some new tools that we can put into the new doctrinal workflows,” he noted.

The efforts are bearing fruit, Conklin reported. “I see more cases where information is being shared, and systems are more able to talk to each other than in the past. In the past, we would suggest examples to people, and they would comment that that was just not possible, since they couldn’t get access to the data. But some of those barriers are being broken down. Now when I show examples of integrating intelligence and operational data, there is a lot less resistance. There is still some way to go, but it’s becoming more common.”

Last modified on Thursday, 04 September 2014 10:34

Additional Info

  • Issue: 5
  • Volume: 12
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