Online Geospatial Network Aligns Army and Air Force Data

July 15, 2010
By Jordan Garegnani, SIGNAL Connections

U.S. Army Central Coalition Forces Land Component Command and U.S. Air Forces Central are pooling data sources to satisfy their individual geospatial mission requirements through the newly formed Geospatial Central Command Collaborative (G3C). The two organizations previously operated on separate information platforms, but with G3C they each have a broader, more complete network of geospatial data. The collaborative activity eliminates overlap of information, saving the time, energy and money previously spent to collect the same data for two separate military branches.

The G3C effort, which began in 2009, exists as a website that is accessible to all military personnel, giving them the most up-to-date geospatial imaging information of areas under U.S. military occupation via the Army or Air Force. It is a single website and map with geographic information systems (GIS) rivaling the speed of Google Maps even for deployed or remote users, says Dave Williams, an assistant architect at AECOM, the company providing technical, operational and professional management solutions for the project.

Williams explains that it is not uncommon for branches in the U.S. Defense Department to build separate platforms of intelligence. But, when Army troops were sent into the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, they had no information to build on because teams had not gathered the data. This lack of information spurred the G3C.

Craig Erlandson, group manager of the technical aspects for the program at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, explains that the project evolved from the need for a system to support geospatial information collected by personnel at FortMcPherson. However, the project manager and architect at the time, Tammy McCracken, realized there was a better option. Instead of creating the geospatial network from scratch, McCracken saw a complementary advantage to layering the information on top of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command’s Installation Geospatial Information and Services network already in use.

The collaboration’s first step was sharing U.S. Air Forces Central’s list of sites, which included 10 years of data collected on the 1,500 Air Force airfields in its Geobase Program. This project not only eliminates redundant data and creates a smoother flow of communications but it also saves $4 million in hardware, software, data and staffing costs annually.

Previously, it was difficult for troops on the ground to access unclassified geospatial information seamlessly. They would have to log in to and search multiple sites for maps and raw data. Erlandson relates that now a navigator on a C-17 coming into Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, can access G3C in flight and not only see the information and maps but also quickly download the raw source data into GIS aircraft mission-planning programs, such as FalconView, for measurements and analysis. Williams claims this site is more up-to-date and faster than what could be provided commercially, without the redundancies of two geo-based programs.

The information is gathered from two channels, Erlandson explains. The first is on the ground through GIS survey teams. Between the Army and Air Force, 25 to 30 ground teams collect information. The second method is through remote feature extraction using satellite imaging; several hundred Army and Air Force teams use this method. This raw data is then compiled and updated dailyoften several times a daywith 0.1 percent website downtime while staying online to display survey data and imagery acquisitions.