New Mapping Tools Aid Bosnian Mission

In Operation Joint Endeavor, the military is relying on new imagery software and other off-the-shelf technology to deliver 3-D and multilayered maps to the field.

DOD commanders in Joint Endeavor now have as part of their arsenal the Defense Mapping Agency's PowerScene application and other terrain analysis tools as well as remote replicator systems.

With the new mapping technology, "you get the capability to do a lot of information tailoring in the theater so you can get real-time support with respect to battlefield awareness," said Col. Trey Obering, deputy director of acquisition and technology at DMA.

Terrain Analysis Tools

PowerScene, which creates 3-D terrain images by overlaying traditional maps with satellite and other imagery, has become an important part of Joint Endeavor. Developed by Cambridge Research Associates, McLean, Va., PowerScene came to fame during the Bosnia peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, when it was used to help redraw borders during negotiations.

Now the 1st Armored Division at Tuzla, Bosnia, uses PowerScene to orient troops to their new landscape, said Col. Dorin Balls, program manager for European customer support at DMA. "It lets commanders at all levels go to their area of responsibility and take a look at what it's like," Balls said.

Generally, a PowerScene map is depicted as a "fly-through" in which users survey a terrain visually, as if they are playing a flight simulation computer game. The software runs on a Silicon Graphics Inc. Onyx workstation.

The 3-D images have given users some definite advantages over traditional maps. For example, Bosnian hills and mountains typically are flat-topped with sides that fall off steeply; PowerScene illustrates that quality more vividly than a paper map ever could, Balls said.

With PowerScene, the fly-throughs can be captured on videotape and distributed where needed, DMA said.

Also, PowerScene images, unlike paper maps, can be used to identify lines of sight in a particular environment—a valuable tool for setting up radars and defense positions.

Intelligence units engage in their own brand of terrain analysis, Balls said. They can study a PowerScene map to identify vulnerabilities in a troop's position or to analyze avenues of approach to potential hot spots or "troublemakers," he said.

The Army's Topographic Engineering Center has fielded several other portable terrain visualization systems developed by Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems.

The Multi-Spectral Imagery Processor, based on the Army's Common Hardware/Software-I workstation, combines Atlanta-based ERDAS Inc.'s Imagine image processing and Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.'s Arc/Info geographic information system (GIS) software. MSIP allows users to create layered hard-copy maps with overlays showing terrain elevation, satellite imagery and other data from DMA or commercial sources.

MSIP allows U.S. forces to update maps when new roads are built, when encampments are established or when other changes occur, said Dave Hall, program manager for combat terrain information systems at Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems, Fort Washington (Pa.) Operations.

Both PowerScene and MSIP use image processing and GIS to enhance geographic data. In addition to displaying maps, these systems allow users to assign attributes to map data, said Kurt Schwoppe, manager of Imagine software at ERDAS. For example, a 3-D map of a region could show airspace regions where aircraft might be subject to anti-aircraft fire.

Remote Replicator Systems

DMA also has sent several workstations to the Bosnian theater to assist with more traditional map making. Remote replicator systems allow users to call up digitized raster map images of anywhere in the world, select the scale and print out a map.

With this approach, users need never worry about the problems associated with a given region falling at the map's edge. It's an old truism that "war is always fought on the edge of the map," Balls said.

Similar to MSIP, the remote replicators come with two computer workstations, a digitizing table, a large-format scanner and two large-format printers. The system is not designed for mass-production—it prints about 60 large-format maps an hour—but it gives DMA customers a way to generate small batches of maps as needed for briefings and related activities.

The replicators can also generate maps from new or modified data sets—for example, when a border changes—giving DMA an interim capability before the new data sets go into full-scale production, Balls said.

Getting Maps to the Warfighter

Although DOD is working with a new generation of mapping technology, the basic principles of battlefield awareness have not changed, DMA's Obering said. As always, the troops need tools to establish their position, navigate and visualize the battlefield. What is different, though, is DOD's ability to shorten the time it takes to get information into the field, Obering said. With products like PowerScene and remote replicators, DOD is "pushing more information into the hands of the warfighter," he said.

High-level intelligence operations have had access to advanced mapping for a number of years, Schwoppe said. "What's really exciting is...now, down at the lowest levels, there are imagery tools available for mapping and terrain analysis," he said.

Featured

  • Defense
    Ryan D. McCarthy being sworn in as Army Secretary Oct. 10, 2019. (Photo credit: Sgt. Dana Clarke/U.S. Army)

    Army wants to spend nearly $1B on cloud, data by 2025

    Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said lack of funding or a potential delay in the JEDI cloud bid "strikes to the heart of our concern."

  • Congress
    Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the Hack the Capitol conference Sept. 20, 2018

    Jim Langevin's view from the Hill

    As chairman of of the Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committe and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin is one of the most influential voices on cybersecurity in Congress.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.