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U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC) – Recent Milestones

Delivering situational awareness, supporting the warfighter

The U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC), the Army’s Knowledge Center for Geospatial Expertise, achieved several exciting milestones in 2010. The creation of a directorate to process and distribute high-resolution, high-accuracy color imagery; development of strategic partnerships with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)), and other AGC supporters; as well as the contributions of an exceptional work force were but a few of the factors behind the center’s success as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) major subordinate command.

The center expects to surpass these accomplishments in 2011 with a change in senior leadership, additional contributions to the Army Geospatial Enterprise (AGE), and the relevant, responsible, and reliable delivery of direct geospatial support and products to warfighters.

On Jan. 25, 2011, Dr. Joseph F. Fontanella was appointed to the Senior Executive Service as the director of the AGC and is responsible for supporting the operations, intelligence, acquisition, research and development, and modeling and simulation communities with geospatial information. He is also chartered as the Army’s Geospatial Information Officer, with responsibility for collecting and validating geospatial requirements, formulating geospatial policy, setting priorities, and securing resources supporting the AGE, as well as synchronizing geospatial solutions at both headquarters, Department of the Army, and secretariat levels of the Army.

Upon retirement from the Army at the rank of colonel after 26 years, Fontanella began his federal career as assistant director for Plans and Program Management with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Alexandria, Va. He also served as deputy director of the AGC from 2006 to 2010.

The AGC’s mission is centered on the provision of an AGE: an integrated system of technologies, standards, data, and processes that delivers a standard and shareable geospatial foundation, facilitating a high-resolution common operating picture to the warfighter at all echelons. This enterprise also provides the framework needed to integrate the center’s systems and data with those of the Army and other constituencies seamlessly.

“The AGC’s ultimate goal is to serve Soldiers, our strategic partners, and others who rely on our ability to deliver timely, accurate, and actionable geospatial information and services,” Fontanella said. “We are orienting our focus on three tenets in order to accomplish this goal. The first is adhering to the Army Corps of Engineers motto – ‘Be ready, relevant, reliable and responsible.’ We want to build upon our successes within the geospatial community as a reliable source of high-fidelity geospatial data. Second, we will remain relevant to the Department of Defense by making certain that the ongoing operational functions we perform are closely tied to our mission. Finally, we need to ensure that we are tied to the future. By wrapping those things together, we get to the smorgasbord of needs that our warfighters must have addressed.”

The AGC’s mission is centered on the provision of an AGE: an integrated system of technologies, standards, data, and processes that delivers a standard and shareable geospatial foundation, facilitating a high-resolution common operating picture to the warfighter at all echelons. This enterprise also provides the framework needed to integrate the center’s systems and data with those of the Army and other constituencies seamlessly.

“The ultimate goal of a network-enabled Army geospatial enterprise is information that may be posted, processed, and used as needed vertically and horizontally, from peer to peer, and bi-directionally from the international and national levels to the Soldier/user level,” said Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. Temple, USACE acting commanding general and acting chief of engineers. “Managing all of this data and converting it to useful information is increasingly challenging as we use even more persistent surveillance capabilities.”

Geospatial information, as it pertains to the Army, is any information-input data or exploited data associated with geographic (contextual or spatial) and temporal references. This includes information about the Earth, its subsurface, surface, bodies of water, atmosphere, and adjacent regions of space. The Army relies heavily on geospatial information and services for all of its operations to the point where it has become a key “commodity.”

“We will concentrate on eliminating our Soldiers’ frustration from the lack of interoperability between mission and battle command systems,” Fontanella said. “This is due, in part, to stovepiped databases forcing Soldiers working in tactical operations centers to perform many work-arounds or data translations to present the best common operating picture to the commander. With an enterprise solution deployed across the force, we can help eliminate these interoperability deficiencies, which will ultimately reduce redundancy, improve the probability of mission success, and save lives.”

High-resolution BuckEye imagery over an urban area in Zahko, Iraq. BuckEye's imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data are used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in operational environments. The sensor's LiDAR data supports improved battlefield visualization and line-of-sight analysis. Data is pushed to requesting units on DVD and made available via the Internet on all Department of Defense networks. USACE photo

High-resolution BuckEye imagery over an urban area in Zahko, Iraq. BuckEye’s imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data are used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in operational environments. The sensor’s LiDAR data supports improved battlefield visualization and line-of-sight analysis. Data is pushed to requesting units on DVD and made available via the Internet on all Department of Defense networks. USACE photo

The center’s programs and expertise are helping to build the standardized, shareable, geospatial foundation required to generate the common operating picture Soldiers need to plan contingency, crisis response, and humanitarian missions here and abroad. The development of interoperable data and systems requires a concerted, cooperative effort by strategic partners, Soldiers, and industry – a “given” considering the plethora of programs, platforms, and other geospatial technology available to the Department of Defense today.

These operations must also be orchestrated within capability-set development in order to allow the Army to incrementally field fully integrated command and control tools that support mission command while maintaining backward and forward compatibility with network operations and other warfighting functions.

For example, Army Mission Command, which consists of operations, intelligence, mission rehearsal, and training capabilities, all depend on a standard and shareable geospatial foundation achieved through the AGE and are critical to LandWarNet capability sets that support the fielding of geospatially interoperable Army programs of record (PORs) and non-PORs.

Geospatial tools and support staff must also be relevant, reliable, and responsive – providing maximum value with minimum delay to the field commander using scarce resources. The AGC’s BuckEye program exemplifies these criteria and is the standard-bearer for many of the center’s operations, as there is a tremendous demand for the program’s high-resolution, 3-D, unclassified imagery by the warfighter.

BuckEye’s Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data supports improved battlefield visualization and line-of-sight analysis. Since its inception, the program’s sensors collected more than 85,000 square kilometers of data over urban areas and along main supply routes in Iraq, more than 2,000 tiles of LiDAR elevation data at one-meter resolution, and 1,800,000 color images at 10- to 15-centimeter resolution.

Geospatial tools and support staff must also be relevant, reliable, and responsive – providing maximum value with minimum delay to the field commander using scarce resources.

BuckEye collections in Iraq concluded in September 2010; however, some assets were transferred to Afghanistan, where more than 100,000 square kilometers of data have been collected to date.

The AGC’s Geospatial Acquisition Support Directorate (GASD) is also contributing to the development of the AGE by building the Army Geospatial Data Model (AGDM). The Army is moving toward a joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational environment. The use of coalition forces emphasizes and elevates the need for enterprise operations that can share information across all echelons. The second iteration of this AGDM contains the common geospatial concepts required to share data and support common geospatial applications and services across the AGE.

The directorate has also been working with program executive officers and program managers to develop realistic, achievable, and integrated AGE implementation plans, and is supporting them in identifying efficient methods of implementing the AGE. The team’s staff is conducting initial system assessments to guide this process and will support requirements’ development, design reviews, and technical meetings throughout the development process.

For example, the GASD supported requirement reviews, map engine evaluation, user juries, and provided geospatial support to the hand-held platform demonstration for Joint Battle Command Platform. The directorate also provides experimentation support for potential AGE solutions. In November 2010, the GASD organized a Geospatial Summit, co-sponsored by the Army Geospatial Information Officer and the ASA(ALT) System of Systems Engineer, to bring together the Army’s geospatial leadership, Army materiel developers, and the GASD to develop a way ahead for implementing the AGE.

The GASD works with industry partners and will be developing a catalog of existing geospatial capabilities to assist materiel developers. The directorate negotiated an enterprise license agreement (ELA) with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc., saving the Army more than $26 million in licensing fees during five years, and is looking at the possibility of other industry ELAs to support the AGE.

“It will take some time to standardize and synchronize the geospatial tools and data that commanders rely upon to accomplish their missions,” Fontanella said. “As we do, it will reduce cost and improve efficiency, giving our Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and special operators a terrific advantage over our adversaries. Solutions are here today, and it is possible to accelerate development, acquisition, and deployment.”

Doing so requires engineers, mission command, the intelligence community, and acquisition professionals to work together toward the goal of providing the Soldier with the absolute best possible situational awareness.

This article first appeared in the 2011-2012 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Building Strong® publication.