April 10, 2018
By Scott Lee, Director, Federal Programs at TerraGo
It seems that every year we talk about solving the ultimate mobile ISR problem – getting intelligence to and from the tactical edge. Once again, this will certainly be a major discussion point at GEOINT 2018, which is being hosted on April 22nd – 25th in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Collectively the GEOINT community has been working to find ways to fuse satellite imagery, material photogrammetry, signals intelligence, human intelligence, and open-source intelligence to create a Common Operational Picture (COP). Where we have fallen short is getting this data to the place it’s most needed – the tactical edge
Getting to where we are today usually involves a mountain of full-body software coding, then testing it for operational capability in a secure environment. Then evaluation, remedy, more testing, more evaluation and on it goes, time and dollars adding up rapidly. If it doesn’t meet whatever standard a customer sets, we collectively invent another wheel.
This all ends up being expensive and time-consuming, and yet the solution to disseminating a COP to the tactical edge remains elusive.
Here’s a way we can shortcut the process: Use low-code software to accelerate the process. Using low-code enables new applications that can be assembled, as opposed to being written from a clean sheet.
Modern applications are being used by platform vendors and systems integrators to speed up processes. Those applications are configurable by design, and they are fostering solutions that gain speed and flexibility. They extend platform life, while adding data capability that can make that platform more valuable.
With low-code architecture, end users simply point to platform connectors. Rest API and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards make integration easier and more straight forward. Build an app, point it at your GIS and imagery platforms and extend data assets to mobile missions, operations and projects.
Remember, the goal here is a better COP that allows all of the stakeholders to see the same thing at the same time. Analytics, imagery, maps, video, audio and more – all are part of the fused COP. And, remember, where the breakdown in the Production-Exploitation-Dissemination cycle has been in discussions during these annual meetings: the end of the GIS software spectrum. Geospatial experts, intelligence analysts and command have tools to do their trade. Field operators — war fighters and first responders — often don’t.
In their personal lives, they can utilize Apple and Google Earth data as part of dozens of useful apps on their smartphones, but as fielded operators, there isn’t an inventory of configurable, COP apps at their disposal.
Again, the answer can be using low-code software to build field-first and mission-specific configurable mobile apps, not those that are rigid and platform-specific. Low-code apps enable the field to send data to analysts that create the COP. It should allow those field personnel to get the COP in return.
If that sounds like an Army and Marine Corps solution, it is – but it’s hardly limited to those branches. Low-code solutions can help a carrier task force spread over hundreds of miles of ocean to be more inter-operative more quickly with command and also with each other. It can facilitate actions of airmen spread over thousands of miles of sky. Custom mobile applications that can share GEOINT can be used in all these types of missions and more, such as disaster response and recovery
Each of those operational requirements necessitates different application capabilities to function at the edge of their missions, but creating solutions for those capabilities has a common thread: flexible, adaptable low-code software.
Take this a step farther. A unit involved in a fight over 1 kilometer of Afghan mountainside, or a ship seeing a potential bogie on radar in the Sea of Japan doesn’t have a lot of time to call up the COP for help. That unit, or that ship doesn’t have time to wait for an intelligence solution from an analyst who also doesn’t have time to view all of the overwhelming ISR data available in a calm period, much less in a kinetic one. Often on-site decisions have to be made with the data on hand. That data should be accessible instantly in the field.
Remember, the problem is now and in front of the decision-maker. That warfighter wants to know where the bad guys are and how many of them are facing the unit; what elements — fire and aerial support; or, in the Navy’s case, the location of the nearest missile-firing ship — can help, and how to access them. The decision-maker in the field isn’t concerned about the COP beyond the horizon, at least not now. The solution is to see the best-available, just-in-time GEOINT right now.
Lives depend on that speed.
Providing those solutions can be done quickly, but to do so, the Intelligence Community and Defense Industry needs to be willing to do two things:
Speed is a key. The problem has lingered for a long time. Platforms are aging because their rigidity has made it difficult to adapt them to technology that evolves inevitably and inexorably. They struggle to accommodate missions that change and get broader every day.
Introduce low-code to the solution equation and take out that rigidity. Then react faster, with more flexibility and less cost. And with more help where it’s most needed -- dissemination to the tactical edge.