Geospatial Information Exploitation and the Art of Modern War

Geospatial Information Exploitation and the Art of Modern War

“Know your enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.”

—Sun Tzu (trans. Griffith, 1963)

Never before in the history of human conflict have our military commanders had access to so much data about our own and allied forces, the enemy, the ground and the weather. And probably never before has there been so much uncertainty about what victory might even look like let alone how we might achieve it.

Was Sun Tzu wrong? Is the modern era unprecedented? Or are we missing a vital component in our defence capability?

Donald Rumsfeld highlighted a critical factor limiting our intelligence capability in his perhaps poorly articulated but unfairly derided ‘known unknowns’ comments at a NATO Q and A.

However despite the number of variations of knowns and unknowns in the statement he doesn’t appear to have hit upon perhaps the most important lack of intelligence capability; the unknown knows. This is the information we already hold in various corporate systems but just can’t find, analyse and integrate when we need it.

During my own operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq some ten years ago now I had a major breakthrough when I started manually plotting all incoming unstructured data with a geospatial element on a simple digital mapping tool. The geographical integration and visualisation of what we knew about the enemy enterprise and enabling facilities was so revealing that patterns quickly became apparent and it became possible to accurately predict where key nodes in the target system would be found.

It was a huge and manually labourious task taking a wide range of geo-data formats including place names spelt in a wide range of variations, lat-longs in a wide variety of degree, minute second or decimal variations and MGRS and UTM grid references provided in a wide range of completeness.

Why, I wondered, did all the agencies involved insist on distributing data in unstructured formats without basic standards? It seemed that some simple procedural changes would make most of the unknown knowns knownable.

The world and our capabilities have moved on a lot in the last ten years and so has the importance of data and system standards and integration. With the proliferation of systems and devices that the modern military commander has access to the more important it is that data from one system can be retrieved, viewed, analsysed on another so that critical decisions can be made with the best possible information.

Recently I’ve been delighted to work with Helyx SIS Ltd, a company with world leading expertise in ensuring that geospatial data can be correctly managed to enable effective cross system exploitation.

If you have existing or are developing new information systems that generate, store or utilise any form of geospatial data you may want to contact Helyx to ensure your data will provide commanders with the answers they need.

About the Author and Helyx SIS Ltd

David James is a former Military Intelligence Operator who served on tours of Iraq and Afghanistan being awarded the QCVS for his ‘exceptional’ work in Effects Based Targeting which drew heavily on geospatial information exploitation. He now works as a consultant in the fields of Stabilisation, Information Activities and Outreach and Smart Power strategies.

Helyx SIS Ltd is a company that specialises in geospatial information exploitation providing a range of data management, geospatial information systems, services and consultancy to the UK military.

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