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Big Data tools drive GEOINT closer to the warfighter

Sophisticated tools and practices help DoD and IC and get GEOINT to the people who need it most.

Feb. 18, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN EDWARDS   |   Comments
One challenge to creating a collaborative GEOINT environment is a growing volume of data and enormous bandwidth requirements.
One challenge to creating a collaborative GEOINT environment is a growing volume of data and enormous bandwidth requirements. ()
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The intelligence community and military services have a constant need to share current and accurate geospatial intelligence with parties worldwide who can put the information to immediate and productive use. From analysts in stateside offices all the way out to warfighters on the tactical edge, GEOINT needs to be both readily accessible and readable on whatever device the recipient happens to be using at the moment.

The battlefield, where life and death decisions are made every day, presents the greatest challenge to GEOINT collaboration platform developers. To make the right decisions and ensure mission success, warfighters and commanders need to get the most relevant GEOINT on their screens as quickly as possible. Yet a proliferation of fixed, portable, and mobile communication devices, combined with various new ways of presenting GEOINT, is creating an increasingly complex collaboration environment. "Every day, there is a greater demand for using multi modalities together," said James Phillips, senior director of business and product strategy, geospatial intelligence solutions, for Exelis, an aerospace, defense, information, and services company located in McLean, Va. "Examples are full motion video, LIDAR, wide-area motion imagery, still imagery, hyperspectal, and terrain data," he added.

"The primary challenge of creating a collaborative GEOINT environment is the sheer volume of data and enormous bandwidth requirements," said Karl Fuchs, vice president of technology at iDirect Government Technology, a Herndon, Va.-based company that develops satellite-based IP communications technologies. "The vast amounts of bandwidth (needed) have typically relegated raw GEOINT data to headquarters or behind-the-lines locations."

Enhancements to antenna and waveform technologies, as well as new SATCOM systems with better SWaP characteristics, are now helping to drive GEOINT data closer to individual warfighters, Fuchs said. Meanwhile, fresh GEOINT software tools are also helping to make collaboration increasingly seamless and interactive.

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In January, the Armyís Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A) program selected GeoPDF software from Atlanta-based TerraGo to provide GEOINT to remote warfighters without having to rely on complex geospatial tools installed on desktops, field-deployed laptops, and mobile devices. The software, which is compatible with a wide range of PDF-compatible devices, is designed to allow Army intelligence analysts and geospatial engineers to share intelligent 2D and 3D maps and imagery to improve situational awareness and help make informed decisions faster.

Management, Trust, and Standards

Identity management and user trust are two key challenges facing developers hoping to create a fully collaborative GEOINT environment. "The problem of having one log-in for each user and the ability to access the data they need, and none of what they shouldnít, still needs to be resolved," Phillips said. Many observers view single sign-on as an essential key to efficient GEOINT collaboration. "This way, members of the community can enter an enterprise system and gain access to the tools, data, and information necessary to resolve hard problems," Phillips said.

Effective collaboration also depends on changing some long-held attitudes. Most important, Phillips said, is strengthening an inclination among all parties to share their data with authorized individuals. "Service entities need to be willing to share access to their data to achieve a truly collaborative environment," Phillips said.

Security is always a major concern when working with ISR and GEOINT data. "We have already seen brief episodes of adversaries hacking ISR data, and so the implementation of a complete transmission security (TRANSEC)-enabled network is paramount," Fuchs said. "This vulnerability is (also) being addressed through strict adherence to the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) process," Fuchs said.

Open standards and interoperability between systems are also essential. "The need for interoperability and open standards is key to creating a truly collaborative GEOINT environment," Phillips said.

Social media is also likely to play an important role in GEOINT collaboration in the years ahead. "Younger analysts are comfortable with social media; itís what they were brought up on," Phillips said. "They feel constrained when they donít have that option available to them."

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