DGI 2011: Guest blog
In preparation of next week’s Defence Geospatial International event (24-27 January 2011), DCI presents an interview with Col. John D. Kedar, Former Commander JAGO, UK MOD.
In January 2010, Col. Kedar and his colleagues gave one of the most popular DGI presentations ever, talking about GIS capabilities in-theatre, with real-life examples from Afghanistan. More GIS work has been implemented in Afghanistan, more capabilities have been installed and successfully used. Col. Kedar, now part of the Defence Geospatial Intelligence (DGI) 2011 Advisory Board, kindly agreed to answer a few questions on challenges that his team face in Afghanistan and how geospatial intelligence has helped over the last few years.
As your soldiers are directly involved in theatre operations, could you tell us what are the main practical challenges of your GIS team on the ground in Afghanistan today and yesterday.
J.K: “Well, it’s a great pleasure to be here, and thank you for inviting us again. In terms of the teams on the ground, there are several challenges I want to tackle in Afghanistan. The first is getting hold of useful data. There’s a lot of data around, but it doesn’t flow within Afghanistan. So it might be in Kabul, but it’s not down where my guys are in Helmand, or it might be in DGC in Feltham, but it’s not necessarily on the ground with us. And it really is a case for us of getting the data moving around, be it imagery, or be it topographic type data of any sort.
The second real challenge for us is, actually, with all of that, turning this into things that the commander can use, because a lot of the data, in particular, cultural data, is not there. Wouldn’t it be good if we understood what tribe was in every village, what tribe lived in which parts of a village? All of that would really help analyse a situation. Because commanders need to know a lot more than we’re giving them. Commanders need to know if I build a well in such and such a village, who will benefit, what will they think of the work we’ve done, and where else do I need to build the wells to stop that friction. So it’s a much bigger problem set and we need more information in order to deliver that.”
GIS has changed; in the last five years it’s changed quite a lot. In fact, we keep talking about GIS and defence GIS changing every year. What made the biggest difference in the last three years? What was that change that made a difference to your operators on the ground?
J.K: “To be honest, it’s less the GIS that has made the difference, because the functionality of GIS is such that we don’t use a lot of that functionality. What’s made the real difference for us is being much closer to the people that are using what we’re outputting from the GIS. So being in the forward operating bases with the infantry companies, with the battle groups, and being able to give what the user needs, there and then, is the big difference. So it’s less the development of GIS; it’s more where we’re using it that has been the biggest development for us in three years.”
How do you see GIS in ten years’ time? What is it going to be about in ten years’ time?
J.K: “Ah, now there’s a difficult question! I’ll be retired in ten years’ time, I hope, but it’s important to understand that, for us, it’s not technology that will make a difference now. It’s how we use the technology within defence. It’s how we make sure that we get information to people; it’s how we make sure that all information is specially referenced in some way so we can use it in GIS. So logistic information, EOD information – a whole range of data sets that we need to reference in some way so it can be used. That’s what we’ve got to drive to do. But, of course, that can be helped, and I think the big difference the GIS will make in that ten years’ time is we’ll be able to pull in all sorts of web served information, from the sort of cloud computing and the SOA type architectures. But if we can pull in information, then the analysts for supporting the commander can provide something the commander really needs there and then.”
So if you had a magic wand and you could change one thing in GIS today, what would you do?
J.K: “If there was one thing I could change in GIS today, here and now, it would be the ability for GIS to be used by a range of users. GIS still requires pretty much expert knowledge to use. Actually, a lot of simple tasks could be taken on, but a much lower level, and if we could provide the models on GIS and the tools on GIS to make it more usable for, if you like, the amateur, but providing the amateur knows what he is doing, because the risk is he will do something and then come up with an answer that’s wrong. But if we can provide simple GIS algorithms and so on, it will take some of the work off my guys in theatre, and they can concentrate on the more difficult stuff while the simple line of sight and so on and so forth is being delivered by the infantryman himself.”