Use of Geographical Information Systems in Combat Research Proposal

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Geographical Information Systems in Armed Warfare

Today's technology has altered the face of modern warfare. Technology has made it possible for peacekeeping to play a bigger and more successful role, and serving as a deterrent to armed conflict. Unmanned drones are sent over war zones to detect and eliminate armed threats. Global positioning systems (GPS) and geographical information systems (GIS) technologies work independently and together to provide strategic information that could serve to turn an armed conflict in favor of one or the other of the aggressors, depending upon on which side the better technology is on.

Possessing technology for geographical information is one that weighs the balance of military power in one direction or another. It is not a new technology, and as early as 1964, the United States was launching satellites into orbit around the earth, which relay back to earth images from satellites placed strategically in what is called the Clarke Belt. The three satellites maintain a synch with the earth's own movement, but do not move from their strategic geographical range as they orbit with the earth. As a result, between the three satellites in their strategic placement, they are still relaying back to earth complete global images. These three satellites are early examples of GIS.

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Today, however, GIS is a far more sophisticated technology, and we can see this sophistication of technological advance in space technology. Consider for a moment the technology that is being used to map Mars. NASA's own satellites and rovers are able to relay back to the NASA control centers panoramic views of Mars, which NASA then combines to provide a detailed panoramic view of the red planet. The view we have of a planet hundreds of thousands of miles from earth is detailed, showing a planetary surface that is rocky, mountainous, and dry. This view comes to us by way of GIS technology.

Research Proposal on Use of Geographical Information Systems in Combat Assignment

The technology is indispensable, especially for strategic military operations. Combining the use of GIS with GPS, and the imaginable result is phenomenal. The military operation that is employing these interacting technologies is at an advantage that cannot be matched by a defensive operation lacking these tools, or one or the other of them. The problem with the technology, is that it is difficult for the government to control the use of it.

Emerging information technology trends include the wide-scale use of cryptography, growing commercial use of traffic analysis techniques and database systems, powerful GIS systems and imagery workstations, and other capabilities that allow information to be combined and utilized in new ways. Like GPS, the character of these technologies is determined by how and to what end they are applied. Because these technologies are of a class that do not pose obvious, immediate dangers, it is difficult to see how controls can work or find political support. Further compounding the problem is the nonphysical nature of many of these technologies, which makes controlling them difficult."

Once the control of the technology is lost to the public and other entities, then the edge it provides to the military becomes obsolete. This is why, to date, we do not see wide spread use of the GIS technology. We do see wide spread use of GPS, because that can be used without jeopardizing military operations. The geodetic survey capability encompassed within GIS is a vastly different technological capability than GPS. Combined, the two technologies create a tremendous militarily strategic advantage.

The Technology

The technology behind the GIS is much as we see used by NASA in space exploration of Mars. Aiming that technology at earth, we see the technology employed in weather services, and by government agencies outside of the military branches, like National Geodetic Survey, National Ocean Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On the National Geodetic site, we can see the imagery of post storm images in the Gulf region of the United States. The images are clear, visible down to fine details. Looking at these images, it is understandable as to the use the military makes of the imagery.

The following diagram taken from a marketing site online at ESRI GIS and Mapping Software, found at, shows the system that would be employed in the GIS technology application. We can see from the diagram that the process begins with the collaboration of a team of individuals who identify the geographical location and problem associated with the location. Then the technology is applied, and we can see a compilation of the spatial data. Note how the diagram shows the spatial compilation in the 3-D layered presentation. This is the building mechanism of the GIS as it surveys the geographical site specified, and builds the viewed terrain. In the next segment of the technology, we have the integration of the spatial data.,15 September 2008.

The integration of the data is done by satellite survey over designated geographic parameters. The information is, then, projected back to the storage facility, an earthbound computer data bank, where the information stored is analyzed to visualization. That information, once in its visual element, can be manipulated by the views according to the initial layered spatial analysis. The image that is built can be presented in its spatial layers, or one image atop another to build the landscape up to the point of a real image as might be seen in the image provided of the aftermath of a storm on the NGS site. In the final segment of the diagram, the information provides the basis for the decision making that ensues.

Satellite Imaging Corporation, found online, at, retrieved 15 September 2008.

As we can by the above illustration, the breadth of information that can be gained through GIS is wide spanning. We can also see how the spatial analysis begins with a bare earth DEM/DTM. See, too, how the land is distinctly discernable, as is the water, and the vegetation. Then, when the layered Digital Surface Model GIS Implementation is placed over that, we see the 3D raised impression of the objects, presumably man-made, that sit on the surfaces shown in the Bare Earth DEM/DTM. The Ortho-Imagery layer is the actual visual in color terms, while the first two layers are detecting the heat sources as is reflected by the earth, water, and vegetation. The final layer, the Multi and Hyper-Spectral layer, codes it with a reddish color that is useful to for detailed surface analysis.

This is an amazing technology, and, today, it can be found for public use on the internet. There are search engines offering GIS services that allow the user to locate specific addresses in large metropolitan areas. The images are clear, detailed and can give the viewer a clear scope of the surrounding area, right up to the door. While this raises privacy issues to a new height, from a military perspective the information that could be gained by this system is invaluable.

Military Operations Involving Troop Deployments and Movement

In 2003, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) released the results of a study on GIS, and the challenges of the technology and data sharing. The report cites the importance of GIS to the Federal, emphasizing the capabilities of the technology, saying that its use in recovering the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Columbia, when it exploded on reentry.

The report states that the debris field from the Columbia was strewn across a forty-one counties in two states, Texas and Louisiana. Federal officials attributed the success in recovering the debris, which was essential to learning what led to the destruction of the Columbia. Given the success of GIS in this highly important and sensitive incident, its importance to other official and especially military operations is easily understood.

Militarily, GIS is essential to the movement of troops, supplies, accessing areas for control, and even to map the ocean floors for the optimization of surface and submarine exercises. The diagram below, taken from the 2003 GAO report, demonstrates the communities on the GIS service directory. It is surprising to see that the DOD and Defense Agencies share the GIS system with not only the Federal Government, but also with state governments, civilian entities, international users, and commercial users. Although it is understood how other than military and government entities would benefit from the use of GIS, it is surprising to find that they are on the same satellite information systems.

The above diagram reflects the "Geospatial One-Stop Portal," sponsored by the Federal Government. The portal has objectives, which although they are set at the current time, are still debated as to whether or not they are all encompassing.

Specifically, its objectives include (1) deploying an Internet portal for one-stop access to geospatial data as an extension to the NSDI Clearinghouse network (see figure 3); (2) developing data standards for the seven NSDI framework data themes; (3) creating an inventory of federal data holdings related to the seven framework themes; and (4) encouraging greater coordination among federal, state, and local agencies about existing and planned geospatial data collection projects."


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APA Style

Use of Geographical Information Systems in Combat.  (2008, September 22).  Retrieved October 24, 2020, from

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"Use of Geographical Information Systems in Combat."  September 22, 2008.  Accessed October 24, 2020.