Increasing role and relevance of geospatial technologies in defense and security
The demand for the services offered by the geospatial technologies for different applications, such as utilities, transportation, defense & intelligence, infrastructural development, and others, has grown significantly over the years. Geospatial technology is an evolving area of interest that comprises Remote Sensing, Global Positioning System, and Geographic Information System. Companies operating in the geospatial technology field offer satellite imagery, aerial survey mapping services, and satellite data services, among others. This technology allows us to obtain information about the Earth’s surface which is used for further analysis and visualization. The rising advancements and miniaturization of sensors have opened new prospects for geospatial data collection. The smaller versions of the existing systems, for instance, mini-satellites to drones, which are equipped with various sensors, are allowing the experts to gather data that seemed impossible in the past decade. Geospatial technology is playing a crucial role in revolutionizing space missions. A few years back, designing, launching and operating satellites used to be an expensive deal. But, with the advent of small satellites and CubeSats, which are integrated with geospatial technology, space missions are becoming more economical.
With the modernization of military technologies, the manner in which the wars are being fought today has completely transformed over the years. Today, the defense forces have to be prepared against the insurgency strategies, advanced weaponry, and the emerging virtual warfare, which makes the use of intelligence regarding the prediction and prevention of such movements just as crucial as on-the-ground warfare operations. Geospatial tools provide the ability to predict, monitor, and counter threats, and help to plan and support the field operations. The use of cutting-edge geospatial analytics software, Big Data, and advanced imaging technologies along with the high-resolution Remote Sensing satellites, drones, and other sensors. This allows a smooth flow of crucial data among law enforcement and intelligence agencies to address pre, actual, and post-war scenarios. The real-time images and insights of the affected areas are critically important to enhance the emergency response time particularly in highly risky zones such as national borders. Considering the fact that the situations can completely transform at any time, the importance of situational awareness has been acknowledged by the defense authorities across the world. Geospatial data is quite helpful for the border security operations to provide precise situational awareness information permitting fast decision-making, while on the other hand, reducing the risks, and increasing national security.
To support the army operations across the world and help army units stay ready for any unfavorable circumstances, the U.S. Army Environmental Command’s (USAEC) Geospatial Information & Services team makes use of the geospatial technologies. It uses the technologies to effectively collect, store, interpret, examine and display the information to enhance the decision making of the defense forces. The Israel defense forces are modernizing their equipment to be at par with the capabilities of the global forces. In line with the modernization programs, the Israeli Navy Hydrographic Branch (INHB) is shifting towards the adoption of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. This forms a part of completely advanced Marine Spatial Data Infrastructure (MSDI) in the country.
Some of the main players offering geospatial technologies for defense and security applications are HEXAGON Geospatial, ESRI, Trimble, MAXAR and Harris Geospatial, among others. Companies have invested in R&D and technological advances to deliver more efficient geospatial technologies for defense and security purposes. For example, in January 2020, MAXAR signed a long-term contract with the Defense Geographic Agency (DGeo) of the Dutch Ministry of Defense for access to SecureWatch, a cloud-based terrestrial intelligence platform. MAXAR also renewed international defense and intelligence contracts for clients in the Middle East and Asia region worth more than $120 million in July 2020. In addition, HEXAGON Geospatial has been working to provide Geospatial Deep Learning expertise and technologies big data analytics for users of your systems around the world.
The challenges associated with geospatial data are regarding its processing and analysis. These issues can be easily rectified and the valuable geospatial data can be effectively used by the application of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). A good understanding of geospatial intelligence is crucial for battlespace situational awareness for the defense forces. With the growing digitization of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms and sensors, there is an increased demand for Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Machine Learning tools to collect, store, and analyze an ever-increasing size of satellite images and intelligence data.
AI and ML processes can evaluate images and videos and identify threats more rapidly and more effectively than human operators can. Project Maven- a United States Department of Defense program to create an AI-powered investigation system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is based on the AI and ML algorithms which is presently using a TensorFlow-based platform to prepare predictive analytics of drone footage.
Geospatial technologies hold great prospects in strengthening the defense and security forces by offering real-time images and insights of the affected areas that help in strategizing the military operations. The incorporation of Big Data and AI with geospatial technologies further enhances the usability of the geospatial data.
Impact of COVID-19 on geospatial technology market
Geospatial data plays an important role in detecting the developments and movements of the armies. It helps in preparing the strategies to counter the attacks and minimize the losses to weaponry and save the lives of soldiers in a battleground. Investments in the Space program help nations to drive the technology development, advancement in digital service & products for defense and security purposes. COVID-19 pandemic created havoc across the world and severely impacted the cash flow into the defense sector as more and more budget had to be allocated for supporting the healthcare systems. The small and medium-sized players are severely impacted by the economic crisis and are struggling to continue their operations. With the start of COVID-19 vaccination programs across the world, the threats regarding the infection are diminishing and the normalcy in businesses across the world is anticipated to resume soon. This is expected to give a boost to government investment in the defense and security sector, which will benefit the geospatial technology market in the future.
The emergence of geospatial technologies in the field of defense and security are expected to enhance the efficiency of the defense intelligence bodies and boost the capabilities of the armed forces over the years. The adoption of geospatial technologies will lead to an enhancement in the decision-making of the defense and security forces and will help the military establishments to plan robust and technologically driven strategies that will enhance the Defense Intelligence of the nations.
(Article by Himanshu Joshi, published on the Geospatial World website, available at www.geospatialworld.net).