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BY JOYCE MARTIN, U.S. Army Geospatial Center

The U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC), a direct-reporting center under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is equipping the Army to win by aligning data, standards, and research and development so that military capabilities are synchronized through a content-managed precision geospatial foundation. Existing Army priorities, from Soldier lethality to long-range precision fires, rely on precise location data.

As the Army’s knowledge center for geospatial information and services, the AGC is working across the enterprise to prepare a strategy for mapping standards that unify geospatial data, while balancing the need to maintain existing programs like high-resolution 3-D data collection, engineering route studies, water resource database maintenance, and ENFIRE, which gives tactical planners a tool for efficient situational awareness.

One of the possibilities that has been explored this year is the emerging opportunity to use 3-D for a tactical edge. In October, the AGC director, along with cross-functional team directors from Army Futures Command, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and industry representatives, offered their thoughts on challenges and benefits brought about by 3-D in an open forum at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting, Oct. 15, 2019.

As One World Terrain (OWT) strives to provide a set of 3-D global terrain capabilities and services to replicate the operational environment for training, a logical next question is whether the geospatial enterprise could standardize a common geospatial source to give 3-D enough fidelity to be an asset for tactical operations, as well as for training.

Although the Army has better geospatial data on the battlefield than ever before, the advent of 3-D data provides opportunities to look at the gaming community and use the same common data products across the training and operational communities, said Gary Blohm, director of the AGC.

“Today’s geospatial mapping and products are key to our intelligence and mission command systems,” Blohm said. “We’re developing technology map-based mission planning algorithms to better use geospatial data to help enhance position, timing, and navigation in the absence of GPS, and we’re figuring out how to better integrate it in Soldier-worn augmented-reality devices, all in support of the evolving multi-domain operations.”

Within the geospatial enterprise, Blohm, the Army’s geospatial information officer, develops and maintains policy and synchronizes the Army’s operational and R&D toward geospatial standards, working with the NGA and service, coalition, and acquisition partners to collect data, and provide analysis and integration support.

One of AGC’s main responsibilities is to enable the geospatial enterprise to address capability gaps that prevent systems from achieving a true common operating picture.


• The U.S. inland navigation system consists of more than 25,000 miles of commercial navigable waterways, of which more than 8,000 miles are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in 22 states to include 276 lock chambers, with a total lift of 6,100 feet. To support efficient, effective, and safe navigation, USACE’s AGC develops, updates, manages, and publishes electronic charts for the 8,000 miles of inland waterways.

• The BuckEye collection system rapidly collects, processes, and disseminates high-resolution geospatial data in support of tactical operations. The resulting unclassified color imagery and LIDARelevation data improve battlefield visualization and operations. In FY 2019, this high-resolution 3-D data program collected more than 488,000 square kilometers of imagery in 17 countries and more than 593 linear kilometers of terrestrial collections at U.S. military installations.

• The Instrument Set, Reconnaissance and Surveying, commonly called ENFIRE, is a digital suite of integrated commercial capabilities designed at the AGC to modernize the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information to support terrain-shaping, reconnaissance, and construction management for U.S. Army and Marine Corps users. To provide up-to-date terrain data to decision-makers at all echelons, the AGC has been instrumental in fielding 3,300 kits this year.

• The Engineering Route Studies, or ERS program, provides basic information on the major surface transportation systems in conjunction with terrain and climate data at the country or operational level to assist the warfighter in planning missions – including military operations, humanitarian relief, transportation studies, and drug enforcement. As of 2019, USACE’s AGC has completed 321 ERSs.

• The Urban Tactical Planner, or UTP, assists military operation planning in urban areas around the world. The urban environment data is displayed on a monitor as an aggregate of features that affect urban area operations, such as building form and function, building height, vertical obstructions, terrain features, bridges, key cultural features, and landmarks. More than 712 full-analysis UTPs have been completed at the AGC.

Soldiers are working with the Instrument Set, Reconnaissance and Surveying, commonly called ENFIRE, a digital suite of integrated commercial capabilities designed to modernize the process to gather information that supports terrain-shaping, reconnaissance, and construction management for ground forces.
AGC Photo 

The nucleus for what the Army calls a common operating picture “is the underpinning of standard mapping provided by NGA and the geospatial community,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, director of the Network Cross-functional Team, U.S. Army Futures Command. “Intelligence drives operations and it all starts with everything being interconnected.”

During the forum, Gallagher stood by the need to underpin the Army’s battle command systems with a common mapping source that has a limited data footprint in any tactical solution, 2-D or 3-D.

There are challenges with integrating large data sets on a tactical battlefield, a need for storage and processing capabilities, and demands on tactical communication transport systems, issues that Blohm and others in the geospatial enterprise are considering.

In the end, the geospatial enterprise is committed to moving forward toward tactical solutions in partnership with each other and with the program executive offices and program managers that deliver capability for the Army in a way that will enable ground forces to operate discretely in contested environments down to the tactical edge.