GEOINT Transitions to the Future

October 31, 2008  - By

By Art Kalinski, GISP

Attending the GEOINT 2008 conference was like drinking from a fire hose: too many superb sessions by top leaders in the field, and more than 120 exhibitors on the show floor. In a short amount of time, this community has transformed itself. Just three years ago there were many contractors offering data and imagery, but very little in the way of integration and analysis tools. This year almost all efforts were pointed toward integration, with fast evaluation and response.

Keynote speaker Retired Air Force Lt .Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr.

Keynote speaker Retired Air Force Lt .Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr.

The opening session keynote speaker was the current Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, retired Air Force Lt .Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr. He addressed the need for integration of intel sources and explained how difficult it is to achieve, because of security concerns about sharing data among agencies and coalition forces. He expressed apprehension about managing the flood of data — how will we sort out meaningful information from the torrent? Clapper discussed the growing uneasiness over our vulnerability to cyber attacks, and noted that new developments in biometrics make identification of terrorists easier, but complicate the ability of our forces to infiltrate hostile groups.

General Clapper then compared the Cold War, which presented us with an enemy that was static and predictable, with the irregular warfare of today. Gone is the old environment that permitted the intel community to take days to identify and evaluate threats; now we must identify threats in mere hours by observing patterns of life and individual behavior. Clapper stated that we have become very good at precise attacks, but we still have a long way to go to prevent attacks.

Integration on Display

In the exhibit hall there were countless examples of improvements to existing technology, with many efforts toward data integration. There were also a few new developments on display.

BAE Systems created a significant buzz — including strong mention by another keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. John M. Custer — with its new SOCET GXP system. The system grew out of SOCET SET and breaks down the wall between image analysis and geospatial analysis to an environment that the company calls Extreme Analysis. It combines imagery, geo data, metadata, attributes, and analysis tools into one unified package.

Image_004Lockheed Martin demonstrated a very interesting capability. Starting with 3D models created by PLW with Pictometry imagery, Lockheed transforms the models with complex algorithms to reflect night-time views or varying weather conditions, with very realistic results.

Speaking of Lockheed, the aerospace company used the conference to announce that it has signed an agreement to collaborate with Pictometry. The two companies will develop next-generation visualization tools for both domestic applications and in-theater, near-real time oblique imaging and 3D model creation using manned and unmanned aircraft.

FortiusOne demonstrated its Web-based service that bridges GIS and GeoWeb services with very user-friendly tools that access a huge global database of coverage designed for non-GIS-trained users. The Web service not only permits the viewing of maps and data, it also allows viewers to add their own data. One example was flood maps that could be enhanced with local data and then saved as printed documents or PDFs.

I also saw a demonstration of Zebra Technologies’ holographic video table, which displays full-motion video as a 3D hologram similar to the still holograms that Zebra has previously developed. While viewing the holodeck-style platform, I half-expected to see Princess Leia appear and ask for help. The technology is still a long way from prime time, but it was amazing to see full-motion video as a hologram.

Getting Results

The most impressive keynote session was given by Maj. Gen. John M. Custer, Commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Ft. Huachuca. He was probably the most passionate speaker, and clearly had a sense of urgency about his mission. He heads the intel training efforts for the U.S. Army, and described how they transformed training of intel people to be as realistic as possible so that soldiers leaving the training can hit the ground running.

General Custer addresses the crowd during his keynote speech.

That’s one thing about military training that impressed me early in my career: they have to get results. You can’t pretend to get a ship under way, you have to actually do it on schedule. You can’t philosophize about getting rounds on target, you have to actually do it. Having an education background, I was completely dumbfounded when I joined the Navy and saw 19-year-old kids do more effective teaching than I had experienced in high school and college. There is no better example than the work done at Ft. Huachuca.

General Custer played a very fast-paced video showing the results; it depicted intel specialists in the field supporting their own unit under fire. They were receiving intel from many sources — satellite imagery, database from interrogations, intercepted communications, aerial imagery, down-linked video, and video from field robots in hostile fire locations — all of which were integrated and analyzed into actionable intelligence that saves lives and accomplishes the mission.

Getting there was not easy, and the General had to overcome many hurdles, including getting live data feeds so the soldiers could train on current, real-life data. Custer’s goal was to have a training environment that was absolutely indistinguishable from the actual combat environment. He indicated that all tools are moving from thick clients to thin clients and that UAVs are playing and increasing roll in the battlefield. Brigades will be working with up to 32 UAVs, with 18 of them in the air. As a result, their data centers will be dealing with petabytes of data. Custer cited an interesting statistic he developed. He observed that in each war cycle since WWII the number of troops was only 10 percent of the previous war, but the needed data bandwidth increased 100-fold.

The video was powerful, and Custer shared how he had personally presented the flag at over 25 military funerals to grieving widows and parents — a life-changing event. I can tell you from personal experience that he is absolutely correct. It’s one thing to attend a funeral of someone that has lived a long and fulfilling life. It’s totally different to see very young children standing in front of the boots and helmet, knowing that they will never know their dad who died for his brothers and to keep the rest of us safe. General Custer received the longest, strongest standing ovation that I’ve seen in years.

As I looked around at the crowd I reminded myself that these are the people that have been instrumental in preventing another major attack on this county. I was reminded of the Irish Republican Army after a thwarted bombing of 10 Downing Street. The spokesman was quoted saying that Scotland Yard was lucky this time, but the Yard will have to be lucky every time — and the IRA will only have to be lucky once. I’m hoping that with everyone’s hard work we will make our own luck.

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