Geospatial Intelligence the New Intelligence Discipline

By Barrowman, Richard E. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Geospatial Intelligence the New Intelligence Discipline


Barrowman, Richard E., Joint Force Quarterly


United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) uses geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) daily in a variety of applications and methods, including modeling and simulations to support concept development and experimentation such as the Urban Resolve and the MultiNational Experiments. It also has a role in training support for mission rehearsal exercises for deploying forces and geographic combatant commander-driven scenarios based on current or emerging situations. Additionally, GEOINT is used to support the Joint Warfare Analysis Center with various nodal analysis models, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency with evacuation charts, and both the Joint Warfighting Center and Standing Joint Force Headquarters with joint task force training and preparation. This list is by no means the limit to which GEOINT affects what is done within USJFCOM and how it impacts the job of joint transformation. It is but a sample of what GEOINT is capable of when applied correctly, and therein lies the rub.

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The term geospatial intelligence made its formal debut along with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, on November 24, 2003. The term also became one of the most important expressions from a perspective of visualizing and understanding today's battlespace. Yet geospatial intelligence remains widely misunderstood in the joint lexicon. So what exactly is geospatial intelligence, why does anyone need to know, and how does it affect what warfighters do and how they do it?

This article will clarify what geospatial intelligence is. It will introduce related terms and address current and emerging doctrine. It will discuss how GEOINT is currently used and applied to the joint task force as well as standing commands, whether functional or service-specific. It will identify the present geospatial intelligence picture and discuss how it could look in the future. Finally, it will look at a few scenarios within the USJFCOM and how GEOINT is being applied to develop new concepts, integrate them within the current structure, and help train the warfighter engaged in today's operations.

Defining Geospatial Intelligence

Arriving at a definition of geospatial intelligence and understanding it are two separate matters. That is not because it is difficult to comprehend or even use, but because it is already pervasive in so much of what we do that we fail to recognize the obvious. Operational warfighters are providing GEOINT at a rate too quick to gather, analyze, configure, disseminate, store, and maintain; planners are using it for planning every branch and sequel; and commanders are asking for it on a daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute basis.

Geospatial intelligence is defined as the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess, and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. It consists of three elements:

* imagery: a likeness or presentation of any natural or man-made feature or related object or activity and the positional data acquired

* imagery intelligence: the technical, geographic, and intelligence information derived through the interpretation or analysis of imagery and collateral materials

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* geospatial information: data that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features and boundaries on the earth, including the statistical data derived.

In short, GEOINT includes but is not limited to data ranging from the ultraviolet through the microwave portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It embraces information derived from the analysis of imagery and geospatial data. And it also includes information technically derived from processing and exploiting spatial and temporal data, which provides the location and time information to conduct three-dimensional (spatial, specifically elevation) and four-dimensional (temporal) analysis. …

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