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Capitalizing on situational awareness geospatially enabled tools: reflections following a RAF rotation.

What is a Situational Awareness Geospatially Enabled Tool?

Situational Awareness Geospatially Enabled (SAGE) is an extension tool for use on ArcGIS designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Geospatial Research Laboratory to simplify and expedite generating geospatial layers and analysis products. Users download foundation data from the Army Geospatial Center's Common Map Background portal online, which become inputs for SAGE. (1) These include elevation data (i.e., Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, Digital Terrain Elevation Data, and digital surface or terrain models) and landcover layers (i.e., GeoCover or VISNAV datasets). Through a series of seventeen steps, Soldiers can use SAGE to transform this foundation data into a comprehensive mission folder for a region. (2) The complete folder includes a series of layers for cross-country mobility, mobility corridors, slope degree and more, facilitating intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) and geospatial analysis associated with friendly and enemy courses of action.

SAGE received Project Manager Distributed Common Ground System Army (DCGS-A) authorization for use on DCGS-A systems on March 18, 2014. (3) The program is Unclassified//FOUO, so a unit may install SAGE on a standalone system with ArcGIS, as it does not have a certificate of networthiness for use on NIPRNET systems. Units may request SAGE training in the form of a standard 40-hour block or remotely through other means, using developed training modules or new material tailored to mission needs.

Familiarization and Preparation for Deployment

A geospatial engineer in a sister brigade first introduced me to SAGE when he hosted a 40-hour training block at Fort Hood, Texas. I sent our all-source analyst with a DCGS-A workstation to this training. Following the course, the analyst described the toolsets and new capabilities to our intelligence cell and we began to incorporate SAGE into analysis projects. We applied SAGE during a field training exercise at Fort Hood in August 2015. Throughout the exercise, members of my team benefitted from additional one-on-one training with SAGE developers and trainers. We created several analysis products that enhanced mission planning during the exercise, demonstrating the program's versatility to battalion and company leaders.

In the remaining weeks leading up to deployment, we further gained familiarization as our intelligence cell created SAGE mission folders for 11 countries, requiring over 200 hours of computing. We mastered the process of finding foundation data and transforming it into a mission folder with detailed geospatial data, readily available for additional analysis or incorporation into a brief. We constantly used these folders throughout the deployment to generate detailed analysis products, often with very little prior notice, throughout the area comprising Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Advent of SAGE in Europe

We invited our organic pilots and analysts from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, and 60th Geospatial Planning Cell Detachment to a 40-hour SAGE training block we hosted in Germany, in November 2015. This training marked the advent of SAGE in Europe; spearheading its implementation from company to theater levels in training and contingency operations. For the 40-hour block, we used a mission folder for Hohenfels Training Area (HTA), Germany containing light detection and ranging (LIDAR) data in a series of practical exercises in preparation for two pending rotations at Hohenfels.

In one exercise, I provided the enemy situation for a friendly air assault mission in Rave rsdorf Village. Pilotsthen plotted enemy air ambush teams and used SAGE to assess suitability of flight paths using linear viewshed features, exposing any areas where enemy elements could see and engage helicopters along templated flight paths. The pilots then flew their chosen flight paths in a flight simulator with programmed enemy weapons systems at the chosen grids to gauge the usefulness and accuracy of SAGE for mission analysis.

SAGE Expedites and Enhances Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

Following this 40-hour block, our intelligence cell completed IPB for HTA in December 2015. This is a lengthy process, requiring extensive research and detailed analysis, but SAGE greatly expedited Steps 1 and 2 of IPB by generating a digital modified combined obstacle overlay. We exported and briefed images of different layers generated using SAGE, such as landcover, hydrology, and mobility corridors. We then created sample products relevant to aviation operations using SAGE tools. We made a slope degree layer for the entire training area and a mounted brush-fire modeling in different colors of the time required for a Downed Aircraft Response Team (DART) to reach a helicopter at any point on the map. This greatly reduces time required for analysis in the event of a downed aircraft. Similar tools can generate a cross-country mobility model for 12 types of NATO vehicles or an overlay modeling time required for a quick response force (QRF) to reach any area on the map.

In December 2015, we also conducted rapid IPB in support of a mission flying Lithuanian military leaders in a UH-60 Blackhawk, near the southeastern border to assess feasibility of adversarial border crossings. We used SAGE to model mobility corridors along the border, compare surrounding land cover, assess cross-country mobility for armor and wheeled assets, and construct a linear viewshed for the UH-60 flight path to model if they would be able to see these potential border crossings or if they would need to adjust their altitude or route.

Revolutionizing Analysis and Autonomy at the Battalion Level

In April 2015, several months prior to our deployment to Germany, we conducted a rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. We cancelled one air assault mission due to risk management as we could not get the dynamic and continuous geospatial support needed to provide slope analysis on changing landing zones, If we had SAGE tools during that training rotation, we would have had all the slope analysis tools readily available to make that mission a success. During our rotational deployment to Europe, SAGE gave our battalion S-2 cell unprecedented autonomy, granting flexibility and efficiency by enabling us to generate geospatial products we would have previously requested from higher echelons or specialized intelligence cells.

During a January 2016 training rotation, our unit supported the Italian Garibaldi Brigade at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), HTA, Germany. SAGE played a pivotal role in the success of the unit's mission. The topographic cell of our higher headquarters had shut down one-month prior as part of downsizing, and the Italian unit was unable to provide the same geospatial support we would expect from a U.S. brigade S-2 cell, We had a similar experience using Sage during another training rotation at JMRC in April 2016.

At Hohenfels, we utilized SAGE to create a variety of products, including:

* Enemy Integrated Air Defense System coverage areas for helicopters flying at varied above ground levels (AGLs).

* Helicopter landing zone (HLZ) analysis (including slope degree, slope aspect, and vertical obstructions using the 1:14 pathfinder rule).

* Visibility for AH-64 Apache screen line at varying AGLs.

* Mounted brushfires for DART and QRF showing travel time to areas on map.

* Mobility corridors overlay for echelons platoon(-) to brigade.

* Cross-country mobility overlays for 12 types of NATO vehicles and dismounted troops (contributed to analysis for friendly evasion and escape or enemy infiltrate/exfiltrate).

* Likely enemy observer post and air ambush team locations, based on visibility.

* Force protection assessments for airfield and forward arming and refueling point.

Interoperability with Google Earth, Quick Terrain Modeler, and other programs also enabled us to build 3-dimensional vantage points to gauge suitability of attack-by-fire positions for AH-64s and observer posts (OPs) for scouts prior to missions using radial line-of-sight tools with reflective surface data.

In June 2016, our battalion traveled to Poland to support Operation Anakonda, a multinational training operation throughout Poland. Using SAGE, we assessed the suitability of flight paths for an air assault mission consisting of 32 helicopters. Toolsets assisted in determining optimal vantage points for enemy scouts, flight path sections most vulnerable to enemy weapons systems, potential masking terrain, and HLZ suitability.

The Way Forward

An emphasis on LIDAR data collection in Europe can greatly enhance utility of SAGE among intelligence cells. NATO recently announced plans to "deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland" in a deterrence role." (4) This will include U.S. troops and will likely increase the number of training exercises in Poland and the Baltic States. Unfortunately, geospatial databases such as the Army Geospatial Center Portal and the Geospatial Repository and Data Management System contain only 30-meter elevation data for these areas, as opposed to the LIDAR available for Hohenfels. Units should submit requests for LIDAR data collection of training areas and border regions in Poland and the Baltic States to enhance the efficacy and precision of analysis using SAGE.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence can play a significant role in spreading awareness of SAGE tools by incorporating demonstrations and training on SAGE into the curriculum for enlisted, warrant officer, and officer ranks. According to the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, introduced by French sociologist Gabriel Tarde in 1903 and further developed by E. M. Rogers in 1995, certain conditions can "increase or decrease the likelihood that a new idea will be adopted by members of a given culture." (5) Following this model, the diffusion of SAGE in the Army is currently in the "early adopter" phase (See Figure 1). Relatively few units are applying SAGE in training or real-world missions, mostly due to a lack of awareness. Exposure to SAGE during institutional training periods can contribute to awareness and implementation.

Additionally, SAGE does not come pre-installed onto DCGS-A workstations when fielded or during updates as some applications. Those wishing to use SAGE acquire a file from a current user or from a SAGE trainer and personally install it on a workstation. Since most battalion S-2s have a DCGS-A workstation in their Modified Table of Organization and Equipment, DCGS-A mentors should periodically acquire SAGE updates and install SAGE when they update units' DCGS-A workstations. Intelligence analysts with SAGE experience should host training for sister units to demonstrate SAGE applications and distribute digital files. This can be especially effective in preparing for a rotation at a combat training center with other units, facilitating information sharing, and collaboration on IPB. Such efforts can bring about institutional change in battalion and brigade S-2 cells across the Army and propel the diffusion of SAGE beyond the "early adopters" phase for maximum benefit. (6)

by Captain Matthew A. Hughes

CPT Hughes is an All-Source and Signals Intelligence Officer currently serving as the S-2 for the 3-227 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade at Fort Hood. He earned a BS in Arabic/Spanish and minored in Terrorism Studies at the United States Military Academy. He is currently completing an MA in Intelligence Studies through American Military University.


(1.) U.S. Army Geospatial Center CMB Online, accessed 4 June 2016. At

(2.) Michael Rainey, "SAGE Quick Start Guide--Creating and Visualizing Foundation Products," 23 July 2015, 6.

(3.) Charles A. Wells, Memorandum for Record, 18 March 2014, Program Executive Office: Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, Authorization for Use of SAGE tools on DCGS-A workstations, Department of the Army.

(4.) Ryan Browne, "NATO Chief: 4 Battalions to Eastern Europe amid Tensions with Russia," CNN Politics, 13 June 2016, accessed 24 June 2016. At http://edition.cnn. com/2016/06/13/politics/nato-battalions-poland-baltics-russia/.

(5.) Diffusion of Innovations Theory, University of Twente, accessed May 28, 2016. At

(6.) Ibid.

(7.) Clive Young, "Enabling Innovation and Change--Part 1," University College London, 24 June 2012, accessed 24 June 2016. At
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Author:Hughes, Matthew A.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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