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Army Geospatial Center

The knowledge base for the warfighter today and tomorrow

A critical component of the U.S. Army Geospatial Center’s (AGC’s) mission – to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize geospatial information requirements and standards across the Army, develop and field geospatial-enabled systems and capabilities to the Army and Department of Defense (DoD), and provide direct geospatial support and products to the warfighter – is the production and operation of the Army Geospatial Enterprise (AGE) through research and development as well as acquisition and operational support.

The Army Geospatial Enterprise is an integrated system of technologies, standards, data, and processes that delivers a standard and shareable geospatial foundation, which facilitates a common operating picture to the warfighter at all echelons. The enterprise also provides the framework to integrate with the rest of the Army and other constituencies seamlessly.  As a result, the center is now better coordinated to support the current and future needs of the warfighter.

The AGC’s success as the Army Knowledge Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information is due, in part, to recent partnering events that have taken place between the center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Army analysis community.

We feel as though we are a greater part of the institution, and folks can now track what we do along with everybody else’s work.”

“Those partnerships really have been tied back to our mission and have been the connective tissues to those agencies, their activities, and their missions,” said Bob Burkhardt, AGC director and Army geospatial information officer. “We’ve had a great year in partnerships with all three, identifying programs and projects to work jointly.’’

In its second year as a major subordinate command within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), another highlight was the revision of USACE Campaign Plan Goal 1, which now includes the development and sustainment of the Army Geospatial Enterprise, he added.

“This is the first time we’ve actually found ourselves contained within the USACE Campaign Plan,” he said. “We feel as though we are a greater part of the institution, and folks can now track what we do along with everybody else’s work.”

Until that revision, a very small percentage of what the AGC was doing could even be found within the goals and objectives of the USACE Campaign Plan, Burkhardt added.

“That, for us, is a big deal, and I think it was a big deal for a number of other organizations within USACE that were particularly focused on and in support of the Army’s warfighting aspects.”

Sample BuckEye imagery of an undisclosed urban area. BuckEye imagery is unclassified and collected at 0.1-meter resolution. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Geospatial Center

Sample BuckEye imagery of an undisclosed urban area. BuckEye imagery is unclassified and collected at 0.1-meter resolution. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Geospatial Center

A big event, especially in the past year, has been the surge in Afghanistan, where the AGC is now making a big difference in areas such as high-resolution, three-dimensional imagery and elevation data that Soldiers can use in theater-efforts that earned congressional acclaim.

“We were recognized by Congress as the leading provider of high-resolution imagery and elevation data to our Soldiers,” said Burkhardt. “Soldiers in the field have expressed that our data adds tremendous value to their operations. Higher institutions are beginning to understand that tactical commanders need this imagery to conduct operations in Afghanistan’s complex urban terrain.”

With the BuckEye mission in Afghanistan and a new directorate to conduct that mission, the AGC’s requirements have increased threefold. In addition, the AGC has been a key player in coordinating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) missions with mission assignments to the Defense Department.

It’s a relevancy to current events to a degree that the center hasn’t seen in the past.

As a result, the AGC has been tasked to respond to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other events that have made major headlines throughout the year. For example, the center provided tools and capabilities for Army North and FEMA to coordinate the Haiti earthquake response and BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the AGC participated in such things in the past, this year these events reached a 24/7 capacity that Burkhardt said required constant participation – and the AGC met all of its marks. It’s a relevancy to current events to a degree that the center hasn’t seen in the past.

The AGC also became a key integrator for the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)).

Army Geospatial Center

An aerial view of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Campus East complex being constructed at Fort Belvoir North Area, Va., June 30, 2010. Along with NGA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District and part of the North Atlantic Division are managing design and construction of the $1.7 billion facility as part of Base Realignment and Closure 2005 programs at and around Fort Belvoir. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Marc Barnes

“That’s pretty much why we exist today – the change of mission to bring about this geospatial enterprise,” he said. “ASA(ALT) brought us in and made us a part of their processes and their system of systems’ solutions across their programs of record.”

NGA has also been a key partner in developing the AGC’s support to Geospatial Visualization Enterprise Services across all of the DoD and the intelligence community. The center successfully developed pilots and prototypes on ways to deliver geospatial information across a number of agencies, Burkhardt said.

But that’s not all.

“We negotiated enterprise license agreements with the Environmental Systems Research Institute for Distributed Common Ground System-Army and USACE, allowing both to enjoy significant cost savings and bring about enterprise capabilities that they will be able to use to streamline their operations over the next couple of years,” he added.

The AGC had additional accomplishments as well, to include being the first to provide its water resource database in the new enterprise’s geodatabase standards.  This asset allows combatant commands, the State Department, and others to use the data to better understand water resources, particularly in Afghanistan, but also other places around the globe where potable water is an issue.

“Having this database online increases our ability to provide reachback support where folks actually know what we know, and know what we don’t know,” Burkhardt said.

If anything, one of the biggest surprises for Burkhardt is that the enterprise mission is picking up momentum faster than he anticipated in its first full year of operation.

“We’ve always had a very high-quality workforce in the sciences and the engineering realms, and the mix helps us to continue to serve the warfighter and the nation efficiently and effectively.”

“We have a very talented group of people that are focused on what our warfighters’ needs are today; we’ve hired some terrific, young former Soldiers; we’ve hired some terrific young academics,” he said. “We’ve always had a very high-quality workforce in the sciences and the engineering realms, and the mix helps us to continue to serve the warfighter and the nation efficiently and effectively.”

This success has become exponential with the increased communication and cooperation of different agencies working in conjunction with the AGC.

The backbone of this success, Burkhardt said, is that the teammates who make up the AGC are so well versed in their individual disciplines.

In many ways, this translates to dollars and cents across the DoD.

“The secretary of defense wants to find $100 billion in savings across DoD,” Burkhardt said. “We are poised to provide geospatial enterprise capabilities across all Army systems, which will save terrific amounts of money across their programs and bring about greater effectiveness.”

Looking into the future, however, there is definitely room for the AGC to grow and become even more effective, he said.  One of these areas is the ability to tap into its potential for extracting additional useful information from all of the data that the AGC collects.

“We’ve been focused on providing data downrange to Soldiers who are in harm’s way, but there are additional impacts that can be felt by some of the things we can do with that data, making it easier for Soldiers to use elevation data to ease troop movement, improve their intervisibility with the enemy, and placement of sensors.  We haven’t exploited these areas, but expect to do so,” Burkhardt said.

Another area for improvement and growth is human social cultural integration.

“One of the things that really strikes me is that if you look at this organization, it had a topographic community focus for many, many years,” he said. “It has really transcended into a broad, warfighting, decision-making focus, using geospatial as its knowledge base.”

This article was first published in Building Strong: Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces, 2010-2011 Edition.