What Every Warfighter Needs to Know

Bringing spatial awareness into your mission

Before making a decision, military commanders gather a lot of information to analyze. First, they ask the same six questions journalists ask when gathering the news: who, what, where, when, why, and how. The critical question that ties the others together is where. Knowing the answer to where often helps the commander determine the who, what, when, why, and how. When you understand where and take advantage of that knowledge, you will make better decisions. You will, in many cases, get a sharper, 360-degree view of what’s happening within your area of operations, when and why it’s happening, and who is involved.

With its visualization, analysis, modeling, and information sharing capabilities, geospatial technology helps answer the where question. People learn faster and understand more when they see solutions and information presented in the visual and geographic format of a map. Digital maps make it easier to collaborate and share knowledge with others.

Today’s sophisticated mapping applications deliver accurate and timely spatial awareness to military organizations. You are provided with situational awareness in near real time, whether you are operating forward in the battlespace, back on base, or everywhere in between. Geospatial technology brings the answers rapidly into view.

Spatial awareness starts when analysts extract precise measurements of targets, anomalies, and troop positions. This provides the military with more accurate information, which can now be accessed and analyzed much faster than in the past by using the latest geospatial technology. Information that once took days to access and study can now be seen in near real time.

The amount of data available for geospatial analysis is also exploding at exponential rates, and data sources are becoming more diverse. There’s also greater emphasis being placed in the military on crowdsourcing, while unmanned aerial systems (UASs) are providing an immense amount of data that needs to be stored, managed, analyzed, exploited, and shared. All this, coupled with advances in science that are allowing better analytics, gives us the ability to conduct modeling and investigation on the fly and distribute the results to decision makers almost immediately.

But as technology accelerates, the gap between what is possible (and needed) and what is being used in the military becomes much, much wider. We need to remember that terrorist organizations now use these new technologies, too, sometimes better than we can.

Geospatial technology helps us bring the answers to the where questions to defense organizations, but significant problems still exist:

  • Geospatial technology continues to live in solution specific silos and is almost solely the domain of technically trained analysts and application developers. Defense organizations would benefit from nimble, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology.
  • Information, such as terrain maps and imagery that help commanders think geospatially, is often inaccessible. Geospatial, web-based services and viewers must be available throughout the chain of command.

Warfighters need access to simple, effective, and efficient on-demand, self-service, where knowledge.

How can your defense organization integrate geospatial thinking into every mission?

Eric Patten

About Eric Patten

Eric Patten is the director of defense and intelligence global solutions at Esri, where he builds awareness for Esri’s geospatial technology in the defense and intelligence communities. He is a retired US Navy captain who has served as the director of operations for the Navy’s Southwest region and navigator aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
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  1. Bill Meehan Bill Meehan says:

    Great post Eric. Your concepts apply to nearly all large organizations that deal with field deployment. I would add that geospatial technology also helps in the why as well. By using advanced spatial analytics along with information from business intelligence (see Esri Maps for Cognos) often the why becomes clearer. Ah, so that’s why the substation caught on fire! Of course at the heart of the why is the where.