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DGI 2013

By Yvonne Headington

This year’s Defence Geospatial Intelligence (DGI) conference and exhibition was a slightly muted affair. DGI 2013, held at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre from 21 to 23 January, was attended by over 670 delegates from 42 nations; down from a total of 750 who attended in 2012. While DGI continues to produce high quality presentations and debate, the subdued atmosphere reflected a contemplative mood.

In UK terms 2012 marked a high point for the intelligence community with the fruition of modernisation plans; including the establishment of the Defence Geospatial Intelligence Fusion Centre (DGIFC) at RAF Wyton and initial operating capability of the new Joint Forces Command (JFC). This year Defence cutbacks and lessons from Operations in Libya (19 March to 31 October 2011) provided an indication of how GEOINT (Geospatial Intelligence) must adapt for future contingency operations. ‘Inflection’ has become the new buzz word.

Appetite for GEOINT

Chief of the General Staff (CGS) General Sir Peter Wall gave the military keynote address, suggesting that more could be done to harness the technical advancements within GEOINT. Specifically: “The user is insufficiently attuned to what we can offer to be able to frame his or her questions in the right vein”. Too often within the battlespace, GEOINT is seen as, “a bit of a niche specialisation.” said CGS. Describing GEOINT as a “fundamental capability” CGS added that it is a field in which the UK, “has to be a first division player on the global scene.”

Afghanistan, a relatively static, low-tempo counter-insurgency environment, has set a new benchmark in the provision of GEOINT. Sophisticated intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) functions have permeated further down the chain of command while analytical skills have also been developed and honed. All this has created an appetite “for the same sort of clarity of data and analysis the next time we go on Operations,” said CGS. Contingency Operations, however, are unlikely to enjoy guaranteed power, stable networks and “hot and cold running bandwidth” and the challenge will be to keep up with the ‘manoeuvre fight’.

From an Army perspective, the future focus will be on maintaining a leading edge in research and training, as well as the multi-agency/international approach. More use of geospatial support for simulation and mission preparation will be required as will be the need to contain the demand for bandwidth, which will have to be used, “more smartly.”

Maintaining and Retaining Skills

Maintaining skills presents an additional challenge. CGS argued that the ability to communicate graphically was, in the past, severely hampered by the distraction of word processing. “Certainly, we in the Army lost our ability to use imagery and graphical methods,” said CGS. However the military has now recovered from this ‘low spot’ and is now increasingly dependent on “graphical representation as the best way of assimilating complex data.” CGS also observed that basic map reading skills will always be needed, “for the day when the ultimate cyber attack shuts everything down,” adding that, “we are already losing those skills to the extent that makes me a little bit apprehensive”.

Air Vice Marshal Jon Rigby, Director Cyber, Intelligence and Information Integration at the UK MoD, also touched on the skills theme. According to the Air Marshal, “GEOINT is at a point of inflection,” grappling with changes in the nature of Operations (from counter-insurgency to contingency) with significantly less money. Such challenges are not new but there is always the danger of losing expertise over time. “This is part of the problem with the British military on this point of inflection” said the Air Marshal. By way of example, capabilities refined during Operations in Northern Ireland were subsequently lost and are only now being re-established.

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