15 March 2002
Strategic Data And Image
Service Feeds Mission Planners
Engineering News Record; New York; February 25, 2002;
THE NATIONAL IMAGING AND MAPPING AGENCY WAS FORMED in 1996 from eight defense-related imaging, mapping and analysis agencies. A name-change, to National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, is being considered.
The tempo at NIMA has soared since Sept. 11. Says one staff specialist who asked not to be identified: ``If we're going after terrorists worldwidewouldn't you expect a quantum increase in the workload, across the board in every federal/ defense-related entity imaginable?''
The data NIMA is delivering for operations in Afghanistan includes a new set of radar topographic measurements made from the Space Shuttle a year ago. They capture elevations on the entire globe from 56 north latitude to 56 south latitude, with data points every 30 meters that are up to two-and-a-half times more accurate than the incomplete aerial photo-based data available before. Sample U.S. images are at www.jpl.nasa.gov.srtm/.
The points can be displayed as exquisite photo-like images. But the real magic is not in their ethereal beauty but in the fact that they are representations drawn from 12.9 million points in every 60-mile square, to which site-specific intelligence can be referenced. It is a map on which a global geospatial database can be framed. At its best, such a database means that anything that can be located in three dimensions and registered there can be prompted to interface with software, or reveal everything on file about it, simply by pointing and clicking with a mouse.
Commands within the Air Force have been developing geospatial systems for bases since 1995, after a rape incident in Okinawa led to an agreement to reduce Kadena Air Base there to half its size. The challenge was to compress the base and ``not lose the mission,'' says Brig. Gen. Patrick Burns, who was deputy civil engineer at Kadena and is now head civil engineer for the Air Combat Command at Langley AFB, Hampton Va. By creating a spatial database of Kadena, planners were able to manipulate alternatives before the compression began and automate management once it was done.
Their system, called GeoBase, is built around industry standards and commercial software to encourage broader application. An offshoot is GeoReach, an expeditionary version that begins with collected images of a foreign site being assessed for rapid base deployment. NIMA has data and images of 12,000 airfields around the world that can provide starting points for planners.
Decision-quality data is linked to the image. Burns says the process can remotely develop 70 to 80% of the information needed to execute a ``beddown'' in 45 days--a deployment that might mean a tent city for up to 5,000 people and runways capable of handling fighter jets and transports. The missing information is filled in by fast-moving reconnaissance teams with wearable computers, digital cameras, testing tools and GPS equipment.
GeoReach got its first field test two months before Sept. 11 in a covert Drug Enforcement Administration deployment of three C-130s in South America. The Air Force says it is being used extensively in Operation Enduring Freedom now.
For more on this story, including additional photos, please visit our Website at http://www.enr.com.
Photograph: BEDDOWN PLAN WITH GEOREACH, TOP, AND DATA COLLECTION GEAR.
IMAGE RIGHT COURTESY OF USAF AIR COMBAT COMMAND
Photograph: RADAR IMAGERY: POINTS OF FACT.
PHOTO CENTER BY TOM SAWYER FOR ENR; IMAGE LEFT: NASA/J.P.L./CALTECH;
Photograph: KEEP `EM FLYING Every morning the ``pulverized'' face of Rhino's runway was scraped away.