Guest Blog: Interview with Col. Mark Burrows, Commander, JAGO, UK MOD

Geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial information systems is a set of tools that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location(s). As Defence Geospatial Intelligence 2011 approaches, DCI talks to Col. Mark Burrows, Commander, JAGO, UK MOD.

GIS is becoming the basis of most decisions in-theatre and in HQ. How will GIS change the way generals and soldiers make decisions? Which parts of the defence organisation will adopt it first and which last?

M.B.: GIS is providing greater fidelity of information on the 2 key decision making factors, namely Enemy (or more correctly in current ops the People) & Ground. This sees a measured improvement in the speed and quality of decision making. Additional benefits are improved latency, currency, presentation, sharing and communication of data. The focus of GIS should be at the lowest tactical levels in the sorts of operations we are conducting as present. ‘Operations amongst the people,’ be they COIN, Stabilisation, PK, PE or Humanitarian, require an understanding of low level ground truth. It is this that can accelerate the action-decision cycle. Furthermore, concentrating GIS sensors at the lowest tactical level and exploiting Networked C4ISR enables higher Tactical and Operational level HQ to support and direct effects with a clearer understanding of consequences. Achieving coherence across the levels is the challenge. The parts of Defence that are adopting first include the GEOINT /ISR and CIS communities, those last are at the tactical level, where the capability is not widely understood or exploited effectively.

With the quantity of imagery and information growing every day, how do you see the defence geospatial intelligence function changing/coping with its key tasks?

M.B:  The key to future lies in networking GIS systems and fusing available data. The ‘man/woman in the loop’ will remain critical. We already are adjusting the scale & scope of the analytical staff in tactical HQs to elevate the level of decision support to Commanders in acknowledgement of these and other associated changes. Extra staff are required (at a cost) to fuse, link and filter the increased data to cover the various complex factors which influence desired outcomes in Joint Combined Multinational Inter Agency operations amongst indigenous people. Post analysis GIS should improve the way we present and communicate info derived from imagery but this is dependent largely on the available networks. NNEC, and, specifically in ISAF’s case, the Afghan Mission Network is vital to getting the most from Geospatial Info Systems. Requisites: Open architecture/common standards; equal access within security domains; coherence of provision of GIS throughout the span of available Geospatial services. We are starting to see junior level, sparsely populated J2/Geo cells being replaced with higher ranked, better established and resource Joint Mission Analysis Cells – which are able to answer the full spectrum of Commanders’ Intelligence Requirements rather than have a narrow focus on ‘enemy’ or insurgents.
Human Terrain Analysis is quickly becoming a new buzzword in geoint. How do you see it helping the in-theatre operations? How has it affected your job?

M.B: Human Terrain Analysis is vital to the successful conduct of COIN – and is hugely important in PKO. The people provide the terrain in which we conduct operations. In COIN, as currently in Afghanistan, all that we do can be seen to be a subset of “Influence Operations”. We seek, by our actions, to influence different sectors of the whole population to increase their support for official governance (at District, Province and National level) and its organs (police, Afghan National Army, NDS, local administrations & line Ministries represented by health, education, economic facilities etc). We seek to separate and marginalise the insurgent from the general population. But we can only be successful if we understand the outlook, desires, fears, sympathies, background of the population. This requires us to “map the people” from ethnic, family, tribal (& sub-tribe), economic, religious, cultural, local historic, educational needs, agricultural and myriad other perspectives as a basis. Furthermore, we need to expand on this to try to identify what within our ambit we could influence, to increase the degree of sympathy and support of one set of people – without alienating another set. GIS undoubtedly has a significant role in supporting robust HTA.

Geo capabilities will soon become the basis of every command and control operation in every defence organisation. Will that change things dramatically?

M.B: GIS could change things dramatically IF we achieve the necessary degree of Alliance and trans-national Interoperability. Interoperability, i.e. the bearer and link is the pre-requisite to deliver the potential huge changes that GIS offer. Linkage from the Grand Strategic through Operational to lowest Tactical levels (and in my view, more importantly vice versa) is what required. That would change things dramatically. This would result in improved situational awareness in the complex terrain of human geography

If you had a magic wand and could change only one thing in the way geoint world operates, what would you do?

M.B: Being somewhat greedy I would be after 2 changes:

The first would be to improve interoperability, storage and access and this includes the management of data – and more human beings are needed for this.

Second, based on COIN and current ‘ops amongst the people, I would like to resource the lowest Tactical level (companies and platoons) with GIS sensors, so as to empower BG Comds & maximise ground truth. This would support low level tactical decision making whilst giving a recognised picture up the chain, thus garnering support as required (this assuming the networked ability to share Information with higher HQs/neighbouring units formations). It is at the Lowest Tactical level that people are influenced for the good or the bad of the overall campaign. Part of our problem is that we have been slow to acknowledge AFG is a COIN campaign and our resourcing is still stuck in a conventional mindset with control of assets and decision action cycle set too high.

Defence Geospatial Intelligence 2011

24-27 January, QEII Centre, London

Do you have views about the future of geospatial intelligence? Click on the comment button below and join the debate!

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