The Epicenter for Military GIS Operations

The Epicenter for Military GIS Operations

More than ever before, the U.S. military is relying on GIS technology and those with GIS degrees.

And the most important cog in this GIS wheel is the U.S. Army Geospatial Center.

The U.S. Army Geospatial Center’s coordinates and synchronizes geospatial information requirements across the Army, while developing geospatial enterprise-enabled systems for the Department of Defense. It also provides direct geospatial support and products to Warfighters. The Army Geospatial center was organized in October 2009 to support the Army’s LandWarNet / Battle Command.

Much of what the center works on is classified and will not be known for decades. But, here’s a look at a few accomplishments in recent years.

Terror Map

Among recent warfighter contributions, the Geospatial Center worked with ESRI to create “Terror in Afghanistan.” The map book shows importance and accomplishments of (GIS) users around the world.

Created by Mr. Stephen Benzek, cartographer, U.S. Army Geospatial Center (AGC), the two-page map examines civilian casualties due to acts of terrorism in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009. According to the Geospatial Center, the map’s style was derived from newspaper and propaganda maps from the 1930s and early 1940s. The author was inspired to use GIS software to simulate these old styles in depicting a contemporary conflict after browsing old maps at the Library of Congress. The diverse terrain of Afghanistan is represented in a hand-drawn style by applying dots to contour lines that are easily created from digital elevation data.

“I decided to create the map on Afghanistan civilian casualties rather than Iraq because the military operation in Iraq was beginning to wind down while the operation in Afghanistan had just ramped up in 2010,” said Benzek. “A future map might compare reported civilian terrorism casualties in both countries over to time see how they differ–particularly when compared to the tempo of ongoing military operations.”

Civil Support

The Geospatial Center also mans an $18-million web-enabled Government software application to help Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during crisis.

It was used on East Coast during and after Hurricane Irene and to coordinate aerial transport of relief supplies throughout country.

Called the Defense Support to Civil Authorities Automated Support System (DDASS), the software provides automated “real time” management and coordination via online. As long as they have an internet connection, workers can coordinate relief with local authorities.

Prior to the development of DDASS, coordination and prioritization of Defense Support to Civil Authorities-related events were accomplished via telephone, fax and paper file folders. There was no way to rapidly coordinate military support across Joint- and service-specific activities or between the ten FEMA regions supported by the DoD. Additionally, visualizing a common operational picture for each DSCA-related event was not possible.

In addition to helping US citizens in disasters, the Geospatial Center helps other countries. After the Japan earthquake, the Center compiled earthquake, water, and geology maps as well as other data sets of Japan and made them available via its public and public key infrastructure Web sites last week in support of U.S. quake and tsunami relief efforts.


BuckEye is the Geospatial Center’s prized project. It collects high-resolution, 3-D terrain data using a 39-megapixel color camera and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) elevation data to produce unclassified 10-15 centimeter resolution imagery for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and mapping missions in Afghanistan.

The program received Army Greatest Invention of the Year honors in 2006 as well as USGIF’s 2006 Geospatial Intelligence Achievement Award its valuable contributions to the geospatial capability of coalition forces during the Global War on Terrorism. It was also selected as one of C4ISR Journal’s Big 25 Award finalists (sensor category) in 2008.

GeoPDF, recipient of USGIF’s GEOINT Achievement Award (military category) in 2008, allows Soldiers to print easy-to-read maps “on demand” and access detailed, up-to-date information on Adobe PDF-enabled computers. Raster and vector GeoPDF formats provide a scalable display of the digital map or image with crisp, clear delineation of roads, rivers, contour lines and other features. The AGC developed GeoPDF DVDs for most countries of the world through its partnership with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and GeoPDF DVDs for all 54 US States and Territories through its partnership with the United States Geological Survey.

In Iraq, BuckEye collected over 85,000 square kilometers of data over urban areas and along main supply routes. The resultant revolutionary data set includes over 2000 tiles of LIDAR elevation data at 1-meter resolution, and 1,800,000 color images at 10 to 15-centimeter resolution. With the change from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn and the downsizing of Coalition Forces, BuckEye concluded its operational support to the Iraq mission in September 2010.

American Sentinel University GIS student Scott Fierro worked on BuckEye and says this was his career accomplishment.

Fierro worked with major civilian contractors to get the Buckeye imagery placed onto the largest and most well-known imagery server in the intelligence community, WARP (Web-based Access and Retrieval Portal).

“This brought Buckeye into the eyes and fairly easy access of over one million users, where prior to this it was only well known and routinely used by maybe 200,000 people,” says Fierro.