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Commanding map.

With widespread availability of imagery and digital map visualisation applications nowadays, a map is less and less an abstraction of reality. advanced, user-friendly features found in current geospatial information solutions merging maps, imagery and real-time information make them very attractive to the masses, but also to military or security planners and commanders for their specific, ever more demanding operational requirements.

Mapping and charting are essential for human command of the environment: exploration, mining, urban or rural planning, rescue and military operations, are all crucially dependent on accurate representation of terrain and human use of it, and yet, even as our knowledge of the world develops, it seems we are always short of accurate or relevant maps.

At the start of military operations in Russia in 1941, for example, the Wehrmacht had to start with German Imperial maps drawn during the previous war. During the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the US still relied on German maps to locate and monitor Soviet assets in the European part of Russia. As recently as in 2002, despite extensive remote sensing resources available, the US Army and Nato went to war in Afghanistan with Soviet maps, since allied military mapping had long focused on Central Europe.

The proliferation of overhead imagery supported by digitisation technologies at the turn of the century, as well as fast advances in information technology (IT) for acquisition, processing and dissemination of digitised map contents, have boosted mapmaking and display. Photogrammetry, the complex science that converts imagery into ortho-rectified images from which geographical features can be extracted, is now made simple by computer automation and wizard tools.

This move is taking Geographical Information Systems (GIS) out of the hands of experts to the benefit of IT users supported by the latest advances in commercial computing, at a fraction of skills, time and costs required ten years ago. In turn, this change is impacting the defense and security communities. The creation in 2004 of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) out of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in the US, and its weaving of nearly 500 cooperation agreements in more than 120 countries, reflect this evolution from j geography to geo-located information of military interest (GeoINT), and is relayed by the fast pace of commercial innovation.

The Goggle Revolution

As a primary consumer of digitisation products, GIS were quick to exploit digitised remote sensing devices, especially overhead imagery. The digitised picture element, or pixel, bears much more information than a mere fragment of a scene. such as radiometry, elevation, range or GPS co-ordinates. In turn, pixels can be formed into geometric features such as point, lines or polygons, and stored in a database to be displayed or combined on request.

As such, GIS produces interpreted resolution-dependent raster images, or scalable vector representations of terrain, for an ever-expanding range of applications. But if the technology of charting, projecting and representing terrain information remains an expert trade in every national geographical bureau (28 of which participate in international co-operation efforts in the Multi-national Geospatial Co-Production Program, or MGCP, to produce and share vector data), commercial IT has brought geospatial information to each and every user.

Companies such as Microsoft and Google were quick to grasp the potential borne by commercial high-resolution imaging satellites (pioneered by government-sponsored Spot Image or Landsat, quickly followed by the more independent Space Imaging and Digital Globe) and the worldwide web, and the benefits of geospatial information for planning, situational awareness and decision-making are now obvious to the general public.

Today, anyone can remotely roam the streets of secretive Pyongyang or look at a Libyan airbase, from maps based on sub-metric-resolution commercial imagery. Interpreted imagery leads to maps, to thematic maps, and on to semantic information tailored to specific business users. To shape this environment, national and commercial communities are producing a growing set of standards, which are impacting defence and security users.

Cots and Mots for C4ISR

The growing availability of GIS support to military planning and decision-making met the still-young Command & Control Information Systems (C2IS) early in the 1990s. Within a decade, they emerged from message-driven (using standardised message exchange formats such as the OTHT-Gold or AdatP-3) to map-based information. The use of standardised graphical icons over a map background has become commonplace to share an order of battle, military plans or situational awareness.

Organised in thematic layers, this graphical information forms overlays, which can be displayed, or superimposed in a GIS or a simple visualisation tool. This rich presentation of the complex battlespace (merging sea, air, space, ground and information dimensions) can also accommodate post-sensor information from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets (ISR). Supporting sensor planning, display, analysis and fusion on networked computer platforms, this unified framework now define Computerised Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C4ISR.

Exploitation of this technology in defence or security communities still relies mostly on Military Off-The-Shelf (Mots) solutions; but these increasingly incorporate Commercial Off-The-Shelf components (Cots) in more open and interoperable systems.

In the 1990s, most of the major C4ISR system integrators relied on proprietary map workshops and visualisation tools to display operational data. Raytheon, General Dynamics or Northrop Grumman in the US, Elbit in Israel or Thales, Selex and EADS in Europe, still maintain military-grade GIS and map viewers. An example is the Effect Management Tool developed by Raytheon and the US Army Intelligence & Effects Program Management for the AFATDS artillery C4I system to display fire mission information and gun-target vectors.

A similar approach is adopted by ADS, now Thales South Africa, for their AS 4000 equivalent to AFATDS. Another can be found in the more recent Mapcore from Elbit Systems, presented as a 'Geovisualization SDK' providing map edition and visualisation with imagery exploitation and terrain analysis.

The move towards cots was pioneered at the turn of the century in Northern Europe by an alliance between Teleplan and the Norwegian Defence Logistic Organisation (NDLO/CIS).The resulting Norccis C2 solution was an early provider of map-based command & control, and has been used as such in several Nato Joint Warfare Interoperability Demonstrations for Common Operation Picture generation and display. Norccis relies on the powerful Maria tactical GIS, developed in 1995 by Teleplan AS for C4I application on Microsoft Windows NT, a choice that has enabled its regular modernisation.

This extensive mapping environment enables users to process geographical data from multiple formats and display them in a unified working environment with advanced visualisation features, including terrain profiling, shadowing, texturing and 3D. A grid management system and tactical symbol editor supports military applications, which can also process real-time information such as weather or radar tracks.

Last but not least, a built-in radio and radar analysis tool can perform optical, radio or radar propagation analysis. This powerful Cots-Mots alliance made Norccis one of the most advanced joint C2IS in the last decade, praised as such by Nato.

Another Northern European tenant of Cots-Mots solution, although centred on C2 applications for C4I integrators, is Systematic from Denmark. Better known for its Iris C2 interoperability software component for Mip information exchange, the software house's Sitaware suite used to leverage on the powerful Maria GIS, and moved in the mid-2000s on the pure commercial Esri GIS to process and display map data, with a view to supporting joint and international interoperability.

Standardisation and Interoperability

Interoperability is paramount in the field of C4ISR. The vast American market, with its extensive military, makes this need even more critical. This is why then Nima (now NGA) decided in 2002 to shift from a proprietary geographic framework to a Cots-Mots integration for US Department of Defense C4ISR systems. Northrop Grumman Mission Systems was thus awarded the CJMTK contract, for Commercial Joint Mapping Tool Kit, replacing the JMTK legacy of 1994.

This move towards Cots introduced the small Californian company Esri to the world of large systems integrators, since the Pentagon drove implementation of C4ISR applications for all services to use Esri software development kits, server and desktop applications, based on their ArcGIS suite of software products. This shift rested on a comprehensive, enterprise view of authoring, serving, visualising and analysing geospatial information.

Already endorsed by NG A and its formal agreements with commercial satellite imaging companies, this vision also recognised the growing influence of commercial standards, from IT development to map and imagery exchange formats, not to mention web standards to serve rich client applications. As an integrated GIS architecture, CJMTK now serve the whole defence community of users, from national command authorities to tactical users in the field.

In 2008, the Nato Consultation, Command & Control Agency (NC3A) followed suit, ordering from Siemens Belgium a Core GIS capability based on Esri, after an interim GIS programme allowed successful evaluation of its software. With this recent step, the holistic, enterprise vision of GIS in the US is prolonged by the capability-based approach of Nato Nec (Network-Enabled Capability).

These references pay tribute to the extensive Esri partnering policy which resulted over the last decade in arraying a rich ecosystem of technology and business partners around them, such as Microsoft, Google, Digital Globe, IHS, C4ISR software providers such as ITT with its Envi and Erdas (now part of Swedish Hexagon group) for imagery exploitation, or AGI's STK product for analysis and visualisation of sensor and communication assets and military C4ISR providers such as SAIC, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Thales.

This synergy enables interoperability to be taken in the broadest sense, covering commercial IT standards, or build service-oriented architectures and web applications (Soap, XML and its KML derivative to represent geospatial features, or Uddi for user-defined web access portals).

In the geoINT community, Esri solutions leverage NGA-driven OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) international standards for imagery formats. In the military community, the most noticeable standards for C4ISR users are the US MU-STD-2525B for tactical object representation in graphical form (to manage orders of battle as hierarchical objects in databases and tactical editors) and its broader-used Nato equivalent, the APP-6 military symbology (otherwise known as Stanag2019).

This synergy of commercial, government and military standards makes Esri, its partner network and its distributors worldwide, key contributors to unified exploitation of C4ISR assets in a web-based IT environment.

A more modest but pragmatic approach can be found in geospatial data visualisation solutions, such as Luciad's Luciadmap. This set of software components, developed by the small Belgian software company for mission-critical command & control applications, can tap multiple data sets to merge geospatial information out of different formats and projection models into a common repository for situational awareness, using a tactical symbology and track editor.

"This viewer-based approach has been retained by European systems integrators such as Thales and EADS, as well as Nato for Cop prototyping. It can also accommodate the latest innovations in GIS, such as 3D visualization or real-time information display (meteorology, air and naval tracks) for sea, air and land applications.

Newer, Faster C4ISR

This GIS evolution from expert geographers to C4ISR operational users can be seen in recent implementations in Europe and the US. The Thales Comm@nder, integrating C4I systems over a common information and communication core was launched in 2007, based on Mots cartographic workshop, GIS and viewer. Designed to follow Nato recommendations for functional services (command & control, intelligence, fire support, command post training) over core services, it gained Nato recognition when Thales was selected for the Alliance's Land Command & Control Information Services in 2009.

To fulfil Nato nation interoperability requirements, Comm@nder is now proposed on the latest ArcGIS version 10, I with Thales becoming Esri's first international gold partner last summer.Thales will thus be the first to leverage the V10 new advances in integrating imagery (such as on-the-fly mosaicking or full-motion video geo-referencing, features hitherto offered by expert Imint exploitation systems), or smooth GIS and video processing over the latest web 2.0 technologies.

Such promising developments were showcased using Fairplay on an ArcGIS server for counter-piracy during Euronaval last fall. The launch of its Geomaker open geospatial production platform during Eurosatory in June the same year offers Thales an opportunity to compete with older Esri partners for high-performance geospatial exploitation systems, like BAE System's Socketset or Textron Systems Overwatch Remoteview.

Another promising development of geospatial information brought to field C4ISR users may be found in Darpa's newly-industrialised Tigr, for Tactical Ground Reporting. This Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency prototype was trialled with US troops in Iraq in 2007 and subsequently fielded in Afghanistan. Designed as a web-based multimedia sharing and reporting application for army patrols in complex environments. Tigr met with immediate success with warfighters, triggering industrialisation contracts between Darpa and industry after two years of evaluation.

This latest implementation of geospatial information at the lowest tactical echelon can be seen as a military application of crowd sourcing, where networked users collect and share contact information in near-real time. Adapted to mobile, individual users linking web content to individual sensors over tactical radios, it could well make recent client-server GIS military applications a thing of the past.
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Title Annotation:Geospatial systems
Author:Fox, Wesley
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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