Printer Friendly


"Those who do not know the conditions of mountains and forests, hazardous defiles, marshes, and swamps cannot conduct the march of an army."

Sun Tzu

Exploitation of geospatial information is revolutionizing business, science, and government. Aerial and satellite remotely sensed imagery, Global Positioning Systems, and computerized Geographic Information Systems (GISs) are increasingly becoming the driving force for decision making across the local to global continuum. Planning urban growth, managing a forest, assessing insurance claims, positioning an automatic teller machine, routing 911 vehicles, and assessing groundwater contamination are just a small sample of the broad impact.

The GIS emerged as a viable technology in the early 1980s. In the 1990s, it exploded into one of the fastest growing and most widely adopted technologies in the information age. (See article "GIS--The Bridge Into the Twenty-First Century," Engineer, April 2000, page 34.) It spans a diverse group of user communities ranging from small villages to federal agencies and the military. This exciting technological development integrates remotely sensed and ground-based information into powerful decision-making analytical tools.

Geospatial Information in Military Operations

"The want of accurate maps has been a grave disadvantage to me. I have in vain endeavored to procure them, and I have been obliged to make shift with such sketches as I could trace out of my own observations and that of gentlemen around me."

General George Washington

Military commanders have long realized the interdependence of the earth's land features and success on the battlefield. Those who stand out in history have visualized the terrain and its effects on the battle's outcome. A part of information dominance, the commander's knowledge of the terrain allows him to obtain a superior advantage in shaping the battlespace.

Accurate enemy, friendly, terrain, and weather pictures are the promises of digital command and control. Geospatial information provides the framework upon which all the other relevant strategic, operational, and tactical information is layered.

Digital geospatial information is the foundation for a superior view of the battlespace. Sophisticated computer workstations utilizing digital geospatial information perform a variety of military functions, such as navigation, mission planning, mission rehearsal, and targeting. Because of the increased breadth and utility of map information, the term "geospatial information and services" has replaced "mapping, charting, and geodesy" in joint doctrine.

The Geospatial Engineering Mission

Geospatial engineering is the development, disseminaion, and analysis of terrain information that is accurately referenced to precise locations on the earth's surface. It provides mission-tailored data, tactical decision aids, and visualization products that describe the area of operation. Geospatial engineering is an expansion of the traditional role of topographic engineering and is necessary to support Force XXI digitization and Army Transformation. It is a key component of the Engineer Force Modernization Strategy, bringing four principle operational capabilities to the Army.

Geospatial Data Generation. Terrain doesn't change as the enemy and friendly situations do. What does change is the resolution of our knowledge of the terrain. The implementation of the Foundation Data Concept (see article, page 10) brings terrain information as a requested commodity to meet the critical needs of the warfighter. Army geospatial engineering is part of an integrated data production with a future focus at Corps level.

Geospatial Data Management and Dissemination. Bringing the geospatial data needed to empower digital command and control is the most complex of the new engineer missions. The engineer role includes integrating data from higher echelons with information from field reports and tactical sensors to produce a common view of the terrain. Engineers must resolve the differences between various reports (conflation of the terrain data) to render a single common representation of ground truth. This "common topographic operating environment" must then move horizontally and vertically in the battlespace. While the future focus of management is centered at the division level, the resulting data must reach the lowest Battlefield Operating System--the land warrior or weapons platform.

Geospatial Data Exploitation and Analysis. Traditionally terrain analysis has been done at the division level and above by engineer terrain teams under the control of an assistant chief of staff, G2 (intelligence). This continues, but with the excitement of new command-critical data flowing into the process. Semiautonomous operations by maneuver brigades (distributed maneuver) demand a clear understanding of the impacts of terrain and weather. To meet this challenge, experimentation with dedicated terrain-analysis support to maneuver brigades began with Force XXI and expanded to all maneuver brigades during the Division Advanced Warfighting Experiment. Brigade support is now standard for working concepts and carries over to the Initial Brigade Combat Team (IBCT).

Geospatial Services (Surveying and Printing). Services often are not noticed unless they are absent. Such is the behind-the-scenes work of the military occupational speciality (MOS) 82D geodetic surveyer and MOS 8 IL photolithographer. High-resolution geodetic control provides the spatial accuracy needed for precision fires and navigation. The geodetic survey is the critical starting point whether opening a tactical airfield or delivering precise artillery. Printing services take on new meaning with the rapid increase in terrain knowledge. Printing continues as an echelon-above-division capability, but the future is in highly deployable digital-printing modules based at Corps level. The modules will he deployed to the critical point of need on the battlefield and will link with the terrain assets under engineer control. These digital printing systems incorporate the technology (the high-volume map printer) proven during the Joint Contingency Force Advanced Warfighting Experiment held at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in September 2000.

Implications for the Future

Geospatial engineering is not new. It is a new term denoting a much-expanded engineer mission. It impacts every soldier on the battlefield, with the engineer officer still charged to be the local resident expert. It is not the mission of only a few centrally located experts (assistant Corps engineers and terrain warrant officers) within the Regiment. Engineer officers at theater, corps, division, brigade, and battalion levels must be the terrain experts, responsible for helping the commander visualize the impact of terrain. To learn how to do that, visit the Terrain Visualization Center's Web site at

The rapid growth of the geospatial-engineering mission can be seen in the first digital division. With the addition of brigade terrain support and embedded data management, the 8-soldier division terrain-analysis team expands to a 34-soldier comprehensive geospatial-support structure. The IBCT expanded the role even further by demanding data management at the maneuver brigade to exploit the robust reconnaissance, surveillance, and target-acquisition capabilities rapidly. This demanded a more experienced terrain-analysis staff, capable data management, and the ability to integrate new geospatial information rapidly. The IBCT contains a 5-soldier geospatial support element led by an engineer warrant officer. All of this expanded geospatial-support capability is under management and control of engineers rather than the G2.


Geospatial engineering is a functional name change from topographic engineering, but it is not a new engineer concept. Engineers still have the task of providing battlefield visualization through analysis, synthesis, and database management. Geospatial engineering provides the services of geodetic surveying and reproduction. As the Army expands its capabilities through automation methods, the role of the geospatial engineer expands significantly. As commanders rely on an accurate depiction of the ground to conduct military operations successfully, so they rely on geospatial engineers. Geospatial engineering is indelibly linked to information dominance and the success of the digital force.

Before his recent retirement, Lieutenant Colonel Hooper was chief of the Terrain Visualization Center, TRADOC Pro grain Integration Office for Terrain Data, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He currently manages a law firm in the Fort Leonard Wood area.

Mr. Murphy is a supervisory physical scientist (GS-13) and the deputy chief of the Terrain Visualization Center. He is the principle developer of the geospatial-engineering concept. He also coauthored (with the Intelligence Center) the "Anny Imagery and Geospatial Information and Services (AIGIS)" concept, which is undergoing worldwide staffing. Mr. Murphy is a retired military officer with 17 years of federal service (much of which is combat-developments experience).

CW2 Morken is a terrain-analyst technician in the TRADOC Program Integration Office for Terrain Data. He was previously assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany; time Topographic Engineering Center Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and the 29th Engineer Battalion, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. CW2 Morken holds a bachelor's in geography.
COPYRIGHT 2001 U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hooper, Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Earl; Murphy, Brian; Morken, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Going, Going, Gone...
Next Article:Disseminating Digital Terrain Data to Warfighters.

Related Articles
Engineer white paper - into the objective force.
FM 3-34, Engineer Operations: A blueprint to forge our future.
Transforming Geospatial Engineering Critical to success of the Objective Force.
Forging our future--using Operation Iraqi Freedom Phase IV lessons learned.
Enterprise geospatial information and services for joint forces.
Joint/Army geospatial data enhancement.
Integration of topographic engineering skills and tools--providing assured mobility with C2 systems.
The role of geospatial engineering in GEOINT.
Geospatial Engineering: combat development update.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters