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U.S. Army Geospatial Center

Home of the Army's geospatial expertise

In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reorganized the U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC) into a major subordinate command. This marked a significant movement in establishing a “Ground Warfighter geospatial knowledge center” that could provide a range of products, services, training, reachback support, and domain expertise. Over the past two decades, as different parts of the Army had acquired and implemented geospatial data and mapping applications, gaps and incompatibilities had emerged among different systems. A functional solution analysis of the Army’s geospatial portfolio, in fact, revealed about 200 gaps across the “doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities” spectrum.

“So a main part of what we’re trying to do here is create a common operating picture – which will create information superiority and improve the commander’s military decision-making process.”

“Over the years,” explained the AGC’s director, Dr. Joseph F. Fontanella, “all these different systems have been built for the Army by contractors to proprietary standards of format, so you can’t share geospatial information. If you were to go into a command post, you might see that every computer has a map on the background. But a lot of those maps are at different scales. They don’t line up. If you were to take something off one map and send it to another system, it might not appear in the right place with the right symbology. So a main part of what we’re trying to do here is create a common operating picture – which will create information superiority and improve the commander’s military decision-making process.”

High-resolution BuckEye unmanned aerial system imagery of a town in Nagal, Afghanistan. BuckEye’s imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data, used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in operational environments, exemplifies the quality of data necessary to populate the Army Geospatial Enterprise. Courtesy AGC BuckEye Program

High-resolution BuckEye unmanned aerial system imagery of a town in Nagal, Afghanistan. BuckEye’s imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data, used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in operational environments, exemplifies the quality of data necessary to populate the Army Geospatial Enterprise. Courtesy AGC BuckEye Program

This common operating picture would be enabled through an initiative called the Army Geospatial Enterprise (AGE), which is not a new program or system, Fontanella explained, but “a combination of technologies, of people, of standards, of formats, of systems that work together to provide a standard and shareable geospatial foundation.”

The AGE is being administered and developed by the Army’s Geospatial-Enterprise Governance Board (GGB), co-chaired by the chief of engineers and the deputy chief of staff for intelligence. The Army Geospatial Center – the seat of the Army’s geospatial expertise – as a major subordinate command center under USACE, supports the GGB by providing domain expertise to ensure that systems can consume and produce standardized geospatial information.

“Our mission,” said Fontanella, “is to provide timely, accurate, and relevant geospatial information capabilities and domain expertise for the AGE implementation and support of unified land operations.”

The movement away from multiple data formats is a complex undertaking, but the AGE is on track for implementation in 2018. In the fall of 2013, it will finalize and publish its Ground-War-fighter Geospatial Data Model (GGDM), so named because it will be adopted jointly with the U.S. Marine Corps. The GGDM will provide a mechanism for storing and sharing ground-warfighter specific feature data across multinational ground forces.

“Our mission,” said Fontanella, “is to provide timely, accurate, and relevant geospatial information capabilities and domain expertise for the AGE implementation and support of unified land operations.”

 

 The Four Imperatives

The AGE is being developed as part of a broader National System for Geospatial Intelligence architecture that will allow data-sharing among all echelons of the Department of Defense, the federal government, and coalition partners. This expanded mission embraces the expertise for which USACE’s AGC’s geospatial data experts have become widely known – work that can be divided into four main categories:

  • Executing policy and implementing standards. As it works toward developing a common operating picture, the AGC plays a critical role ensuring that everything the Army does – setting priorities, identifying production requirements, purchasing, developing products, and strategizing – is in line with this ultimate goal. For example, AGC is working with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT)) to study and narrow available options for hand-held device platforms. The AGC is also working on developing an open-source alternative to the Army’s Command Post of the Future, a proprietary application that requires constant updating by a service representative. “It costs the Army every time we have to go out and touch that system,” Fontanella said. “So we’ve created some efficiencies. We’ve reduced overhead. We’ve increased cost stewardship with these kinds of activities.”
  • Conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E). In conjunction with the Engineer Research and Development Center’s Topographic Engineering Center, the AGC focuses research on increasing the agility of the Army’s Mission Command with new technologies and methods. The Geospatial Research and Engineering Division explores innovations in the collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination of geospatial data in support of both civilian missions and those of ground warfighters.
  • Systems acquisition and program management. With future AGE standards in mind, the AGC is responsible for acquiring, fielding, and managing programs related to geospatial intelligence – including the Instrument Set, Reconnaissance and Surveying (ENFIRE), an engineering tool set designed to modernize the collection and dissemination of information by engineer Soldiers. ENFIRE enables field personnel to enter bridge, road, minefield, improvised explosive device, and other data on standard Army forms in a digital format. “We’re trying to get away from re-creating the wheel time and time again,” Fontanella said. “We can build the data once, and make it available to everybody to utilize it over and over again. We still find, even in the Corps of Engineers, that you’ve got folks going out and collecting the same data over and over again. … With ENFIRE, instead of having to hang on to bridges with rappelling ropes and measuring the width of I-beams, and looking at all the different measurements within that substructure, you can do all this with a series of laser range-finders and a number of other digital tools that allow you to populate these reconnaissance forms from a distance.”
  • Providing warfighter geospatial support, and production. The AGC is perhaps best known for the products and services developed by its own experts, especially in the depiction of terrain data. Since 2004, its BuckEye program has delivered high-resolution three-dimensional color imagery, along with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data, to commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, helping them to characterize tight and complex urban environments. In 2012, BuckEye was deployed in support of U.S. Africa Command.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...