The secret to providing quality GEOINT to Warfighter

Contributor:  Bryan Camoens
Posted:  06/07/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   GEOINT

Colonel Steven Beckman, Assistant Director of Intelligence at the Directorate of Intelligence, Joint Chiefs of Staff, J-2 US Department of Defense, discusses the best quality GEOINT possible to the Warfighter and how that can support effective decision-making with Bryan Camoens. He also shares his thoughts to integrating GEOINT and multi-intelligence to support defence efforts and tells us how geospatial defence and intelligence will evolve over the next decade.

Bryan Camoens: Could you please explain how to go about providing the best quality GEOINT possible to the Warfighter and how that can support effective decision-making?

Colonel Steven Beckman: It sounds obvious, but providing the best quality GEOINT actually starts with identifying the specific question the warfighter wants answered. Does he/she want to know what is at a location, confirmation of activity at a location, or change in activity at a location? While the first might simply call for a Google Earth shot, the others likely call for a mix of overhead and aerial capabilities. Based on the GEOINT tools you have available, it is a question of matching the right GEOINT capabilities to the specific question the warfighter wants answered. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, especially if the GEOINT you provide answers the warfighter’s question about what is there, happening, or has changed at a key location. A case in point was the ability of GEOINT last year to confirm, with a touch more detail, open press reporting on the movement of Qadafi’s forces toward Benghazi, Libya. When GEOINT answers a warfighter’s specific question it clearly supports effective decision-making.

In your experience could you please outline the role of geography and GEOINT in developing informed decision-making?

The first step in the Intelligence Process is to “know” the battlespace, and GEOINT is critical to knowing the geography of the battle space. The fidelity required, however, depends on the warfighter’s intended use of the battle space. In Central Helmand Province in Afghanistan, NATO forces were on the ground and in harm’s way. GEOINT played a major role in mapping and visualizing every canal, bridge and building in the manmade agricultural area of the Central Helmand River Valley that Marines and soldiers would have to secure. This took months of work, and while the GEOINT provided allowed NATO and Afghan forces to clearly visualize their objective areas, on its own, GEOINT couldn’t show where all the Taliban were or where they had placed their IEDs. Nonetheless, informed decision-making required that NATO and Afghan Commanders at the lowest level have a high degree of knowledge about local geography, and GEOINT successfully provided that.

Libya was a different story, as there was no mission requirement for US or NATO boots on the ground. That fact, combined with the scale of Libya's coastal plain (last of Allied concern in 1942's El Alamain campaign) meant that the majority of GEOINT requirements did not necessitate the fidelity desired for ground operations. GEOINT was generally sufficient to answer decision-makers’ questions about geography and what was going on in the battle space.

What are your thoughts to integrating GEOINT and multi-intelligence to support defence efforts?

Going back to the multi-legged stool analogy, GEOINT is already tied closely to other ALL-Source disciplines. The various “Ints” both cue and support each other. Very rarely are senior level decisions made based on a single “Int” source, and GEOINT works best when you know why you are looking at a location and what you are looking for. While often a decisive player for decisionmakers, GEOINT remains joined at the hip with the other disciplines in supporting defense efforts.

How do you go about evaluating future operational requirements and aligning intelligence capability building?

Broadly speaking future operational requirements are tied to the National Strategic Priorities laid out by the President and detailed and communicated to the services and intelligence agencies by the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense. First we look at the future operational needs of the military services, combatant commands and the Intelligence Community and then we weigh that against current and future capability and capacity of the National Geospatial-intelligence Agency (NGA), to include collaboration with partners from around the world. In the end it is a balance between requirements, capabilities, and funding. The higher the priority, the more likely a future operational requirement will be addressed.

What are some of the current untapped opportunities in geospatial defence and will the United States military be investing heavily into these areas?

After 11 years of conflict, we have come a long way in geospatial defense. That said, we don't currently have any specific new areas of focus, but we do look forward to continuing the collaboration we have developed within the IC.

Looking ahead how will Geospatial Defence & Intelligence evolve over the next decade?

The pervasive amount of aerial and other sensors, in addition to commercial means will give an unprecedented degree of persistence to our mission. We will use our advanced systems and techniques to comb through the unbelievable amounts of data to find valuable information and critical intelligence in new ways that might be hard to imagine today. The challenge in dealing with the sheer scale of data will be maintaining the ability to exploit and assess that data.

Bryan Camoens Contributor:   Bryan Camoens


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