DGI 2014 – CONSOLIDATING A DECADE OF DEVELOPMENTS
By Yvonne Headington
01 Feb 14. Once considered a ‘niche’ specialisation, geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) is now regarded as a fundamental military capability and recent Operations have increased the appetite for GEOINT products. In addition ubiquitous services such as Google Maps have brought geography to the masses, raising expectations of what can be achieved with technology.
Defence Geospatial Intelligence 2014 (DGI 2014), held in London from 21 to 23 January, marked the 10th anniversary of this annual conference and exhibition. The event, attended by some 700 delegates from 44 countries, included just over 80 presentations. Many speakers reflected upon developments during the past decade and provided a particular focus on the challenges currently faced by the UK multi-intelligence (multi-int) community.
Following the theme set by last year’s DGI conference General Sir Richard Barrons, Commander Joint Forces Command (JFC) at the UK MoD, suggested that consideration should be given as to whether a strategic inflection point has been reached. “If we can’t be sure then maybe we had better prepare differently” he said, adding: “….the good news is we’ve all learnt to do some really clever things over the last 10 years or so”.
Addressing a range of potential global instabilities, General Barrons challenged the view that the UK no longer faces an existential threat. “That has to be questioned” said General Barrons “in an era where we are dealing with the proliferation of ballistic missiles and the advent of offensive cyber capabilities”. For the future, the core function of GEOINT will be in support of homeland security, Defence and resilience.
The character of conflict also continues to shift and “GEOINT has got to get with the change” said General Barrons. One particular development is the rise of ‘feral mega cities’ with vast variations in wealth and provision of services, as well as diffused power centres that can harbour criminality and terrorism. The military will need to adjust to this complex and dynamic environment which the General described as “the trenches of 2014”.
The shift from counter-insurgency to contingency Operations requires an adaption of expertise honed during the past decade. As noted by Air Vice Marshal Jon Rigby, UK MoD Director Cyber, Intelligence and Information Integration, geospatial products will no longer be produced for campaigns such as those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. “My people….will start to have to think about a different way of applying those outstanding skills”.
There are other challenges, including a reduction in manpower following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. However Air Marshal Rigby concluded that “we come out of that period….in a really, really positive way”. GEOINT is now increasingly central to how other sources of intelligence are fused and has effectively moved from the fringes of the intelligence community to “centre stage”.
In situations where it is impossible to gather human intelligence quickly, GEOINT provides a starting point. While GEOINT was used to support intelligence Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan “I can see a period where we’ll become absolutely a foundational intelligence” said Air Marshal Rigby. “I think that it’s really important that we celebrate the last ten or eleven years of what has been achieved”.
Interoperability poses specific problems; in particular the need to work with NATO allies outside of the ‘Five Eyes’ relationship (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and US). Lower classified levels of foundation products, however, provide a possible bridge to working with other countries – especially through the work of units such as 42 Engineer Regiment as well as the Defence Geographic Centre (DGC).
One particular cause for celebration is the delivery of co-located intell